At Skyward, we love helping our customers find the right drones that will help them accomplish their goals. One common question I get from customers is, “What model of drone should I choose for my program’s fleet?
It’s a great question. And new drone initiatives aren’t the only ones asking — mature drone programs are always looking for new drone technologies, too. But there are many factors to consider and models to pick from. Plus, drone programs don’t always have a lot of budget to work with, so you may not be able to afford making the wrong choice.
So let’s look at the factors that enterprises should consider when choosing a drone to build out their fleet. In this article, I won’t discuss specific models — there are too many to cover briefly. Instead, I’ll offer several considerations for expanding or refreshing your fleet.
Sensors: The most important factor
Ultimately, drones are a means to an end: they’re a way to position a sensor in three-dimensional space. So, if you’re asking yourself what drone you should invest in, start with the sensors it can carry and work backwards from there.
When considering sensors, the discussion should begin with what sort of data you need to capture. “Data” is a broad term, but typically drone data includes images or 3D information that falls into one of three categories: RGB, thermal, or LiDAR. Here are a few considerations for each data type:
RGB (visible light) sensors on drones
- Resolution — How many pixels are on the sensor? What’s the file size of the images collected?
- Zoom — Does the camera have optical or electronic zoom? In my use cases, do I need to keep the drone at a distance from the target?
- Light-handling capability — How does the drone perform in low light? How well does it capture color?
Thermal (infrared) sensors on drones
- Resolution — How detailed does my thermal imagery need to be?
- Radiometry — Can the sensor record specific temperature measurements onto the image?
LiDAR sensors on drones
- Do I need an expensive, heavy LiDAR system, or will drone photogrammetry meet my needs?
- What lifting capacity do I need to carry this sensor?
Once you know what sensors you need to put in the air, then you can determine what kind of drone you need. (Be on the lookout for another article coming soon on the Skyward blog that covers drone sensors in more depth.)
Size and portability
The next consideration is the size of your drone. If the sensor payload you need to carry is heavy, it may require a bigger, more capable drone. However, if all you need is basic visual imaging, then many high quality off-the-shelf drones are available that might suffice.
Portability is also worth considering. Can you carry the drone in a backpack, or will you need a truck? Portability comes into play in scenarios like rooftop inspections of cellular infrastructure. This type of mission might require a crew to access the roof, and they may need a drone to document the antenna mounts. Having a smaller, compact drone that can be carried up in a backpack works well for those areas where lugging a large drone case is difficult or impractical.
Drone software compatibility
Software is a key component of a successful mission. But some drones have more integrations than others, and you’ll need to determine whether your ground control station (GCS), management system, and other software work with your fleet.
Ask yourself which of these capabilities you’ll need, and whether you drone can interface with them:
- Automated flight modes, such as surveys, orbits, or point-to-point missions
- Data processing software
- Flight analytics
- Payload and navigation control
- RTK (Real-Time Kinematic positioning)
Drone purchasing budget
Of course, budget is always a big consideration. What will be the overall cost of your operational budget? Will the aircraft you chose fit within your budget? Do you need a large fleet of lower cost drones, or just a few drones that are a bit more expensive?
We often hear that obtaining buy-in and budget is the hardest part of starting and maintaining a program. Check out a few tips from Skyward’s chief revenue officer on budgeting for your drone program.
Other considerations when choosing a drone model
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all the factors to consider. But here are a few more things to keep in mind when choosing a drone model:
- Pilot training — Larger, more complex drones may require a pilot with different skills or training
- Risk management — What systems do you have in place to document your operations and prevent accidents in advance?
- Security — Where is the drone data being stored? Is it encrypted? Do the locations of cloud data servers matter for your use case?
Skyward can help you choose the right drone model for your corporate fleet
The number of factors when choosing a drone may seem overwhelming, especially if you’re getting started for the first time. So here’s the good news: Skyward’s expert Professional Services consultants can help you determine the right drone model for your operations.
In fact, Skyward can resell a number of drone kits and accessories. If you need to build out your fleet, let us know and we can work with you to find the right drone for your needs.
You can also rest assured that Skyward’s Drone Management Platform is manufacturer agnostic. Our software is designed to help you manage any drone, no matter who makes it. That said, the Skyward InFlight mobile app does have integrations with some specific drone models and manufacturers. This provides additional value, such as a mobile ground control station. More integrations are planned for the future!
Beyond drones and software, Skyward can also help train your drone team. Our Professional Services team can help you streamline the process of onboarding a new model of aircraft and provide hands-on flight training for your pilots. We recently added new in-person training courses for two popular advanced models.
See what Skyward can offer your drone program by visiting our Pricing page.