Plane V Drone 3

A door to door salesperson dropped by MicroPilot the other day. This a very rare event at MicroPilot, and not just because the drop-in sales business is dead. It’s also because at MicroPilot, we want to be able to fly outside our building, so we are in the middle of nowhere – or at least in a pretty rural setting.

The product being sold happened to be an aerial photo of our building. For five hundred dollars we could have a professionally photographed picture of our building. It was a nice picture too, we realized that this wasn’t the first time we’d been approached by this company, on the wall of one of our offices there was a very similar picture taken a decade or so ago.

Of course, if you’re in the drone business you’re probably wondering what type of drone they use to take the pictures. Except that it wasn’t a drone, what this company does is fly a piloted aircraft parallel to the road in front of our building and takes a picture of each farm as it comes into view. From a time perspective, this is very efficient. They probably take a picture on average, once every ten to twenty seconds. If the farms are larger, then it’s one every thirty or forty seconds. If your plane costs two hundred dollars an hour to operate and on average you can take a picture a minute during a flight, then the cost per picture is less than five dollars, pretty efficient.

A few weeks after the pictures are all printed the sales person takes the prints, a few frames and retraces the route of the plane, except on the ground going from farm to farm selling prints to whomever wants one. Again, pretty efficient, even though it takes a lot more time to sell a print than it does to take the picture.

It’s not likely that our current line-of-sight drones can compete for this business. There is a certain impulse factor when you are presented with a picture of your home. The quality of the photo is also much better as it is taken with a professional SLR that is too heavy for most drones to lift. Finally, you’re not going to be able to take a picture of a farm once every thirty seconds with a drone. Too much setup time, too much time with equipment sitting idle.

Of course, drones could do this business but it would be a very different drone than most operators use today. It would weigh a few dozen kilograms and carry a two-kilogram high quality SLR on a high-quality gimbal. It has an endurance based on the number of hours of daylight, where the lighting was good for aerial photos of farmsteads plus the time to launch and recover. Let’s say fourteen hours. You’d launch the drone or several drones, it (or they) fly all day, and at the end of the day the drones return with a camera containing a thousand photos.

This could be done right now if flying BVLOS was possible. Of course, this is such a niche market it will be a while before someone addresses it. Nonetheless, the industry is going to change significantly once we can easily fly beyond visual line of sight.

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