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Ricoh UK contacted Drone My Business Ltd to find out the feasibility of using a UAV drone to inspect the roof of one of their buildings. A feasibility and risk assessment was produced and we were given the green light. This would be an ongoing 4 monthly practice to ascertain the life expectancy of the roof structure. What was previously a difficult and expensive task can now be achieved much more cost-effectively using our remotely piloted aerial systems. Drone surveys and inspections of roofs, chimneys, towers, stadiums, wind turbines, church spires, etc. no longer needs expensive cherry-pickers or scaffolding. We can give supply a series of high resolution images or high definition video of most hard to reach structures. You can even monitor the footage being gathered on our remote ground station screens to make sure you’re getting exactly the images you require. And there’s no longer the need for anyone to leave the ground so the project is obviously much safer. Operating to strict procedures, governed by the UK’s CAA, our first priority is safety. High level drone aerial building / roof survey and inspection companies capturing high definition photography and video in Hampshire, Surrey, Berkshire, Dorset, Sussex, including Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Fareham, Gosport, Basingstoke, Farnham, Guildford, Reading, Andover, Salisbury, Swindon, Salisbury, Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Poole, Worthing, Weymouth, Newbury, Farnborough, Croydon, Brighton, London, Kingston-upon-Thames, Richmond, Middlesex, Staines, South Coast and throughout the UK.
Drone Explorer - aerial building and roof inspection survey photography and video. What was previously a difficult and expensive task can now be achieved much more cost-effectively using our remotely piloted aerial systems. Building inspections of roofs, chimneys, towers, stadiums, wind turbines, church spires, etc., no longer need expensive cherry-pickers or scaffolding. We can give you a series of high resolution images or high definition video of most hard to reach structures. You can even monitor the footage being gathered on our remote ground station screens to make sure you’re getting exactly the images you require. And there’s no longer the need for anyone to leave the ground so the project is obviously much safer. Operating to strict procedures, governed by the UK’s CAA, our first priority is safety. Hampshire, Surrey, Berkshire, Dorset, Sussex, including Southampton, Portsmouth, Bournemouth, Fareham, Gosport, Basingstoke, Farnham, Guildford, Reading, Andover, Salisbury, Swindon, Salisbury, Bath, Bristol, Oxford, Poole, Worthing, Weymouth, Newbury, Farnborough, Croydon, Brighton, London, South Coast and throughout the UK.
A company in Idaho’s panhandle thinks its agriculture-related drone business will eventually take off before the start of the growing season despite federal regulations temporarily putting on hold its flight plan into uncharted territory.
Hayden-based Empire Unmanned LLC was launched Jan. 31. The company is a collaborative effort between Advanced Aviation Solutions out of Star, located a little northwest of Boise, and Blair Farms in Kendrick, just southeast of Moscow. The company intends to use drones to help farmers in Idaho, Montana and the Pacific Northwest monitor their crops and ranchers do the same for their livestock from above.
Empire Unmanned is the first business in the U.S. authorized to legally fly drones as a service for agriculture, said company president Brad Ward.
Ward, 44, is a retired Air Force pilot who also flew MQ-1 Predator and RQ-4 Global Hawk drones over his 20-year military career.
“We are hoping to charge (farmers and ranchers) $3 an acre, and with the learning curve, we will bring that cost down,” Ward said.
The company, in business not even two weeks, already has had seven potential customers express interest — most of them large growers.
“The smallest grower that has contacted us has 1,500 acres,” Ward said. “The largest is a rancher with 14,000 acres.”
Yet the former Air Force drone aviator said the amount of acreage really doesn’t matter.
“We’re looking to get the word out to as many farmers and ranchers as we can.” Ward said. “It’s not so much the size of the farm — 200, 500 acres. We don’t have a minimum charge.”
Empire Unmanned plans to use its drones to collect data on grain crops and potatoes in Idaho, cattle in Montana and orchards and vineyards for growers in Washington state and Oregon.
Yet before Empire Unmanned can launch its first agricultural drone, the company has to navigate an increasingly more complicated puzzle of Federal Aviation Administration regulations as they pertain to unmanned aircraft used commercially.
“We are waiting on one last piece – a Certificate of Authorization from the FAA. That’s the only piece,” Ward said, adding that Empire Unmanned expects to officially get its business off the ground on March 1, in time for planting season. “The biggest challenge is regulatory and the changing environment at the FAA (regarding drones). (The number of regulations) is growing and the rules are changing at a fast pace.”
As for drone regulations in Idaho, Ward said the extent of the state law governing drones is simply to not allow the drone to trespass on private property.
The potential benefits to the use of drones in agriculture is great particularly for farmers who practice a type of farming that is known by different names including target farming, zone management and precision agriculture. Ward explains:
“We can tell you what your wheat stand looks like, instead of you walking all 640 acres identifying where you’re having problems with the field. Drones give them (farmers) an idea of what their field is doing — where a particular area is under stress -— so a farmer can go to that spot and figure out what’s going on.”
Ward said a 30-minute drone fly over can provide farmers with crop field data “right down to the square inch,” which means, for example, growers can examine the blossoms on fruit trees without having to go into the orchard with a ladder.
He added that farmers who practice zone management can transfer the coordinates compiled by the drone to their GPS-guided tractors, making the process more efficient and thereby less costly.
One would think growers or ranchers could save even more money if they purchased a drone from Ward’s company outright and operated it themselves.
“We couldn’t in good faith sell an aircraft to farmers knowing that they couldn’t operate it legally,” Ward said.
He explained that last year the U.S. Secretary of Transportation issued the “Interpretation of the Special Rule for Model Aircraft.”
“The crux of the matter is … a farmer using a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) to monitor crops that are part of a commercial farming operation do not fall under (federal) ‘Hobby and Recreation’ rules,” Ward said.
He added that model aircraft, which do not meet the federal statutory requirements of the hobby and recreation exemption, are nonetheless unmanned aircraft, and as such, are subject to all existing FAA regulations.
“Depending on the system, there are about 20 Federal Aviation Regulations that the typical small UAS do not comply (with),” Ward said. “A farmer that wants to fly an unmanned aircraft to monitor his crops needs an exemption to these regulations.”
Furthermore, Ward said, the FAA is only approving exemptions for the operators of the aircraft and is not taking applications from manufacturers on behalf of their customers, which means a farmer who buys a drone doesn’t inherit approval to fly it from the manufacturer or reseller, they have to apply for an exemption themselves.
Ward added that as of Saturday morning only 23 companies, with his Empire Unmanned being first on the list, have exemptions to operate drones for commercial agricultural purposes.
Ward outlined how the drones collect the data for growers and ranchers.
“They (drones) take a still picture and all those still pictures it takes are put on to a mosaic map of overlapping images,” he said, adding that one 3-D stereoscopic image is the end result.
As for ranchers, Ward said the drones can be equipped with thermal sensors to seek out water or check on irrigation systems.
“The drones (using thermal imaging) can even take the temperature of (a ranchers’) cows to see which ones are sick,” he said.
Ward points out that using drones and thermal imaging to keep an eye on cattle has never been done before, at least not legally, because to his knowledge Empire Unmanned is the only company to get federal approval to apply drones and thermal imaging to ranching.
But what if something should go wrong? A drone goes out of control, let’s say.
“One of the advantages (Empire Unmanned) has is we have $2 million of liability coverage,” Ward said.
Yet Ward doubts if his company will ever have to take advantage of that coverage because black and yellow drone called eBee it’s using — which is manufactured by the Swiss company senseFly — weighs about a pound and a half and is made mostly out of foam.
“There’s a You-Tube video showing a man knocking the drone out of the sky with his forehead,” Ward said, adding eBee can fly no higher than 400 feet “and you’re pushing really hard to get it to go 45 mph on a dive.”
Empire Unmanned has sky-high ambition, but seems to be pretty short player in the world of commercial aviation giants.
Ward said his company has only three employees, but expects to bring on more once business, well, takes off.
For those looking for a job flying an eBee drone with Empire Unmanned, Ward advises that an applicant must “be a private pilot with a Type 3 medical exam, and they have to meet the flight review requirements for the FAA.”
Yet, despite those requirements, Ward said, “We have no shortage of resumes, so we won’t have to go out of the state (to look for drone pilots).
And Empire Unmanned has, for now, has just one drone, which has yet to get off the ground because the company, as stated before, needs to have that final piece of the FAA regulatory puzzle in place. Five more eBees, however, are on order from senseFly, Ward said.
“In the short term, it is probably going to be pretty slow to start,” he said of his company’s upcoming startup. “We won’t keep all six airplanes busy.”
As an aside, Empire Unmanned this year plans to team up Donna Delparte, an assistant professor with Idaho State University’s Geosciences Department. Delparte’s background is in geographic information systems, or GIS, which is a mapping technology that allows the user to create and interact with a variety of maps and data sources. And Ward said his company’s UAS, will be used to assist Delparte with her research.
“Empire Unmanned is a valued research partner, and we will be collaborating with them to collect multi-spectral imagery using UAS to evaluate potato crop health this upcoming growing season,” Delparte told the Journal in an email early Saturday. “(Empire Unmanned) brings extensive expertise in safe UAS mission planning and flight operations.”
ISU has received a $150,000 federal grant to develop ways to use drones equipped with specialized sensors to monitor crop health.
As Ward stated earlier, drones allow farmers to monitor their fields quickly with less cost.
The aircraft can provide even greater advantages, Delparte told the Associated Press in a recent interview.
“Remote sensing technologies offer the potential to protect U.S. food security by providing rapid assessments of crop health over large areas,” she said.
Ward told the Journal on Friday his company “would like to share expenses” with ISU on Delparte’s potato crop project, but it hasn’t worked out those details with the university yet.
Whether or not you’re an aspiring aerial videographer, a land surveyor, construction site mapper, wildlife tracker or simply an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) / drone hobbyist, let’s be honest. There are few greater things in life than owning your own drone. Right?
I learned to fly last year using a Hubsan H107L quadcopter, something small and easy to learn basic multirotor orientation on. I’ve since bought a handful of more drones, both large and small.Hubsan has a newer model out now with a 720 pixel HD camera (and FPV!) that’s been really fun to fly in and around my office.
I’ve spent countless hours reading, watching videos, and talking with people about UAV units, from simple indoor quadcopters that cost $40 to more advanced octocopters that, when coupled with accessories like stabilization gimbals and wireless aerial imaging monitors, cost upwards of $10,000. I’ve been lucky enough to fly a bunch of these units too
Related: Check out our list of 15 killer drones for sale.
The drone industry is rapidly changing. It’s an exciting time to dip your toes into lively UAV pond, and I hope this beginner’s guide gives you the kind of information you’re looking for.
Table of Contents
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What is a Drone?
While “drone” has traditionally been more of a military-influenced term, it’s become synonymous with other terms like Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) or Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS), both of which describe remote controlled (RC) or autonomously programmed aerial machines. Drones are built for recreational purposes, but also for professional aerial photography and videography, to carry cargo, to inspect bridges and flare stacks and industrial chimney towers, to track wildlife, and a number of other budding use cases. Advancements in drone technology have made owning a UAV unit more approachable and cost-effective than ever before. As a result, the UAV community has flourished these last few years.
Note: If you live in the U.S. and want to earn money as a professional drone pilot, check out our step-by-step guide to getting your FAA 333 Exemption Grant.
A new chapter in commercial aviation is being written. The laws and regulations around remote control drone usage are still somewhat unrefined, and I feel like each week I’m reading about a new commercial application that blows my mind. It’s an exciting time to join the UAV community!
Why I Put This Guide Together
Like many of the more recent entrants to the UAV community, I learned about drones on YouTube. Watching UAV footage from extreme sports movies like Danny MacAskill’s The Ridge, or first-person-view (FPV) drone racing highlights from the French Alps, I became fascinated with the space. How could I buy a drone? Do I have to build one myself? How much do they cost? Where can I fly them? What does it take to become an aerial videographer?
I hopped on the web and started to connect with members of the UAV community, soon realizing that there’s a lot to learn. This guide is the kind of high-level direction I wished I would have had when I first got into the space. Use it as a beginner’s walkthrough of what it means to buy your own drone.
Who Should Buy a Drone?
Who wouldn’t want to own their own flying robot?
But seriously, you should consider buying a drone if:
- You’re a conventional RC hobbyist (helicopters, boats, cars, etc.)
- You’re a photography / videography professional looking for a radical new perspective
- You’ve got a commercial interest in drone technology
The best way to learn more about the UAV industry is to pilot your own drone. You’ll gain an appreciation for how approachable these advanced aerial systems can be, and yes, while they’re difficult to master, they’re very easy to pick up. It’s kind of like snow skiing!
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) vs. Ready-To-Fly (RTF)
The first thing you should know about buying a drone, is that you don’t have to buy one.
You can build one yourself! Of course, this requires a steeper learning curve, as you’ll be putting together, coding and calibrating a number of pieces. Get out your soldering iron, and have that DIY support forum bookmarked, because you’ll need it.
If something goes wrong, you’ll have to diagnose and debug yourself. Depending on your level of expertise, getting your first UAV off the ground can take a significant amount of time.
Fortunately, a number of companies are putting together ready-to-fly (RTF) or almost-ready-to-fly (ATF) drones, making it very easy to get started. When I bought the DJI Phantom 1 quadcopter, I was able to build and calibrate it within 45 minutes, and when I bought the Hubsan H107L quadcopter, I flew it within a few minutes of opening the box. Talk about instant gratification.
As far as cost goes, depending on how you’re looking to use your drone, you may not end up saving that much money building one yourself. You can buy a pre-built, RTF quadcopter for less than $150! Also, some of the more advanced drone kits use components that, if purchased as a stand-alone item would be significantly expensive, so much so that if you were to re-create some of the more expensive units, you might end up spending close to the same amount of money you would buying it pre-built.
Drone technology has come a long way.
Alright, let’s get into the meat and potatoes.
There are many types of consumer drones on the market, but the majority of you, particularly if you’re a beginner, will want to stick with quadcopters.
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Quadcopters typically have an X or H square frame and are known for their stability and reliability. The four propellers on most quadcopters can generate enough lift to carry 1-2 pounds and can maneuver quite fluidly, even at wind speeds of 10-15 mph.
All quadcopters follow the same basic design framework. Four motors and propeller blades, and a gyroscope or accelerometer to measure a quadcopter’s pitch, roll, and yaw – how it’s positioned in space.
Using this information, the quadcopter can automatically (and individually) adjust each of the four motors, enabling it to hover in place. The pilot uses a transmitting controller to pilot the quadcopter. It can either gain or lose altitude, move left and right on horizontal plane, or spin 360 degrees.
Because this is a beginner’s drone buying guide, I’ll stick to pre-built, ready-to-fly (RTF) quadcopters. Other types of UAVs can be more expensive, or they’re too complicated for the neophyte drone pilot. Even if you’re looking to buy a special drone for a more specific use case like live-streaming aerial videography or three-dimensional land mapping, you’ll still need to master the basics. A quadcopter is a great UAV to learn on!
Top Drones for Under $200
If you’re learning to pilot a drone for the first time, it’s likely a good idea to start with something basic. You know, something you won’t shed tears over if you accidentally pilot your UAV into a wall or crash into the river. It’ll happen, folks. Trust me.
After speaking with UAV enthusiasts, reading reviews, and piloting a few of these units myself, below are the best training drones I could find for under $200 (USD):
- Hubsan X4 w/ FPV – an affordable beginner FPV (first-person view) quadcopter, perfect for novice drone pilot training
- UDI 818a HD+ – an exclusive from USA Toyz, comes with an extra battery; has “return to home” and “headless mode” functions
- Parrot Rolling Spider – removable wheels and an embedded mini-camera for aerial selfies
- Blade 180 QX – different configuration levels for safer newbie training and an embedded aerial video camera
- Nano QX – weighs little more than half an ounce and perfect for indoor flying
- Syma X1 – can do flips, stable in outdoor conditions and can carry small payload
Click the below image for our other article, “17 Cheap Drones for Beginner’s (Under $100)“:
Aerial Videography Drones
Have a good feeling for the basics and want to buy a drone that packs a little more punch? Below are a few of the most well-received quadcopter units used by aerial videographers:
- Parrot AR 2.0 – not only does the Parrot AR 2.0 boast a durable (and light) styrofoam frame, but you can also pilot it with a smartphone or tablet
- Parrot Bebop Drone – another exciting innovation from the Parrot crew, the Bebop drone sports a 14 Mpx “fisheye” camera, user-controlled 180 degree vision, and a built-in GPS (readthis parrot bebop review from QuadHangar)
- DJI Phantom 3 Standard – an undisputed market leader, DJI offers this model as one their mid-tier options but still fantastic (Check out the Advanced and Professional models too)
- DJI Inspire – the preferred choice for many residential and commercial real estate photographers and videographers; 360-degree camera view and dual-operator mode
- 3D Robotics Solo – “the world’s first smart drone”; some phenomenal autonomous features and 3DR’s leading product out right now
- Yuneec Q500 4K – have enjoyed flying this model; comes with a built-in camera and 25-minute flight time; great bang for your buck
Yes, this list is not exhaustive, but hopefully it’s a good start. Can we help answer your drone buying questions? Shoot us a note firstname.lastname@example.org.
The new Phantom 4 will change your perception of “consumer” drones
Every year DJI raises the bar on what to expect from an off-the-shelf consumer drone. The Phantom 1, the first easy-to-use drone, enabled us to strap on a GoPro camera. Then the Phantom 2 Vision+ integrated a decent camera, great gimbal and amazing smart phone control. The Phantom 3 was another big step forward with 4K Video, ortho-rectified lens, navigation for GPS-denied environments and a lot of polish.
Today the Phantom 4 was officially announced, and DJI once again is leading the category.
There are four stand-out features that are relevant for the Ag community, which is a rapidly growing portion of our use-base.
Extended Battery — Map 160 Acres
Farmers have always wanted more flight time. Previously with a Phantom 3, our customers could reasonably map 80-100 acres. Anything greater required a battery swap to complete the flight plan. Now with a bigger battery, enabling 28 minutes of flight time, as well as a higher top speed of 44 mph (both representing a 25% increase over the Phantom 3 Pro) we expect the Phantom 4 to approach 160 acres on a single charge. While many of our customers have told us that changing batteries on a quadcopter is faster than making adjustments to a fixed wing, the extended battery life will win over even more farmers. Combining the Phantom 4 with DroneDeploy’s ability to continue interrupted flight plans, such as after a battery swap, will enable it to map hundreds of acres quickly and effortlessly.
Weather Proofing — Beat the Elements
Have you ever flown when a storm is approaching? It’s stressful and often leads you to end your mission prematurely. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the mid-western United States or in Brazil, precipitation and drones are a bad combination. The Phantom 4 — though not fully weather-proof, is better able to withstand the elements thanks to an enclosed upper body without vents that keeps moisture away from sensitive electronics. While you won’t be flying the Phantom 4 in a storm, at least now you’ll stand a chance of completing your mission and won’t be running indoors at the first sign of dark clouds.
Obstacle Detection System — Avoid Structures
This is a great safety enhancement for the drone community and society in general. While there aren’t too many obstacles at altitude (250 feet through 400 feet) on a farm, the new sense and avoid system minimizes the chances of collision with power lines, telephone poles, grain silos and other structures. This will give peace of mind to drone service providers that may not be as familiar with the fields they are mapping.
We have now added to our arsenal an NDVI X3 camera unit which is a custom NDVI camera for the Inspire 1 and Matrice 100 platforms to upgrade our current platform into an NDVI scouting device instantly, using DJI's interchangeable gimbal design.