While drone usage has become a widespread part of the entertainment, law enforcement, and hobby industries, consumers and industry have not adopted the use of drones as part of their daily lives (yet!)

Some of this is due to opinions and cost barriers. Some of it is due to the maturity of the technologies involved. Some of it is lack of understanding of the capabilities.

Having watched drone technology evolve over the last 20 years through the hobby industry, it’s been fun to see how the innovations of the many contribute to the collective knowledge of the community. Basement engineers have started new companies that have revolutionized the technologies available to consumers—the R & D was PLAY driven, not science driven.

At the same time, military and industrial-level research has been focused on different aspects of the technology—albeit on exponentially more expensive platforms than the back-yard bashers.

Somewhere in the middle, a grade of “Prosumer” (Professional/Consumer-targeted) drones has evolved that combine high end cameras, gimbals, and AI-assisted flights in very capable (but still affordable) packages. The second-hand markets for these drones make these technologies available to hobbyists at affordable prices, while the retail costs are easily absorbed by those individuals or companies who need the technology for their livelihoods.

Here’s an example of video I shot with a DJI Phantom 4:

(I’m not a professional video guy—I’m not even a hobbyist. I do, however fly drones well enough, so much of what I was able to accomplish was just flying for fun, and the camera HAPPENED to be set up in a way that worked well—my photography quality is very inconsistent because I’m just barely learning.)

These days, I’m VERY interested in the use of drones for commercial purposes!

This website has a great service for an amazing price:

https://www.dronedeploy.com

This very affordable solution (and many more like it) can take a $1,500 investment in a drone and make it useful in many businesses for things like:

  • Warehouse Inventory Count Automation—using advanced algorithms and inventory tracking technology (like RFID, barcodes, glyphs, location mapping), drones can work (indoors, outdoors, or both) autonomously or manually piloted to quickly and accurately count inventory.
  • Volumetric Inventory Counts—piles of salt, sand, lumber, or other materials can be easily and quickly photographed from various angles to collect (based on density, volume, and other captured variables) inventory information that would be impossible in any other way.
  • Inspection of bridges, towers (cell, wind farms), dams, solar farms, construction, and other difficult to reach locations.
  • Patrol, Monitoring, and Alerting of security perimeters.
  • Agricultural Survey—manual and automated missions to conduct soil and water-content monitoring, insect activity inspection, and labor management.
  • Delivery and Courier—for both external (like Amazon deliveries) or internal routing of documents, samples, inventory, and other goods. Useful for transferring small amounts of inventory quickly between disconnected warehouses or in remote areas where helicopters may not be able to land safely.

Drones are usually called UAS (Unmanned Aircraft Systems) by the FAA:

https://www.faa.gov/uas/

For indoor and private property surveys (and depending on your local laws), you may not need to worry about commercial licensing, but you might face stiff fines and penalties (criminal or civil). This is a critical issue to consider when moving forward with drones.

Hobby-level drone pilots have minimal licensing requirements ($5 will currently register a recreational pilot with the FAA and provide a registration number for drones.) Commercial licenses are more in-depth and require testing before they are awarded.

There are many FAA-restricted flight zones throughout the United States. These are necessary to protect aircraft in airports and other areas that are strictly controlled. Each country has its own unique laws. Even in areas without restrictions, the FAA limits altitude for drones at 400 feet (relative to the ground or whatever structure they fly next to—a tower or a mountain peak will extend the 400-foot limit beyond its apex.) This logic seems to assume that regular aircraft have been warned to stay at least 400 feet away above any obstacle, so this should always be a safe buffer.

Laws change quickly, and local laws are often superseded by FAA laws. While many individuals have many varied opinions about laws, it’s best to verify before flying. Uneducated law enforcement might also be helped by printed references to laws, so if flying in an area where you suspect persecution (even though well within legal rights and laws) it might be prudent to carry information that can assist in educating others. (A popular YouTube drone pilot often wears a safety vest that proudly proclaims “FAA Certified Pilot” on it to avoid people’s hassling—if it’s in writing, it’s more believable?)

When using drones for commercial purposes, it’s advisable to obtain flight insurance—not so much to protect the drone (although that might be a good idea), but to ensure that corporate liability policies will cover the (unlikely) damage that might occur in an accident.

Safety is incredibly important—both for the pilot and for any people, animals, or property that might be in the area of the drone. Although drones have a VERY high safety history when piloted properly, they do have the potential to injure. Proper planning, training, and safe practices make drone usage (whether for recreational or commercial purposes) a very safe and enjoyable technology.

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