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Show Me the Money—A Look at Where Service Providers Are Making Money in the Drone Industry

In this article we’re going to take a look at some of the data collected in the new report from Skylogic Research on the drone industry—data we think is important to you and answers the question: “Where are drone-based service providers making money?”

The report defines Service Providers as those individuals or companies that offer drone-based imaging or sensing services for outside hire (as opposed to Business Owners, who “use or purchase drone-based imaging or sensing services”).

Let’s dive in.

Primary Service Areas for Service Providers

Skylogic’s report found that the top three primary service areas for commercial drone work are: Aerial Photography / Videography; Surveying / Mapping / GIS; and Real Estate.

However, as indicated in the pie chart below, the first area (i.e., Aerial Photography / Videography) takes up the lion’s share not just of those three, but of the entire services scene, with 41% of the entire chart, while the following category (Surveying / Mapping / GIS) only receives 13%.


A note on the data: Respondents were asked to indicate the primary and secondary commercial product or services they offer. They could pick one primary and up to three secondary services. Skylogic intentionally had them choose a primary because previous research revealed that many service providers boast about their ability to service multiple industries, but have no domain expertise in those industries.

But just because the majority of commercial drone operators are working in aerial cinematography doesn’t mean they’re actually making money in that sector.

The report goes on to rank the top 10 drone services making over $100K/year. Surprisingly, it’s Surveying / Mapping / GIS that ranks first in that list. Aerial Photography and/or Video is #2. (Of course, just because you’re not making over $100K/year doesn’t mean you’re not making any money.)

After those first two, the third area listed where people are making over $100K/year is Utilities Infrastructure Inspection or Monitoring—even though this is the seventh item listed in the pie chart above, with only 3% of respondents indicating that they work in that field.

So Where Is the Money?

It seems one conclusion we can draw from these data points is that those commercial drone pilots who find a commercial niche (a place where there aren’t many people operating, but there is a demand for the work) are likely to make the most money.

Taking a simplistic view, a commercial operator could potentially look at those areas of minimal saturation on the pie chart—the ones lower down the list—and then look at those areas where people are making over $100K/year, and see what might be required to get into that sector.

Of course, transitioning into commercial mapping or inspections isn’t as easy as just knowing how to fly a drone. But we can foresee a future where solopreneurs team up with other professionals with specific skill sets—for example, a licensed surveyor—to provide high end services to large industrial operations.

Services Most Likely to Be Outsourced

Another chart we want to share from Skylogic’s report shows the commercial areas where business owners are outsourcing services.

If you’re a solopreneur looking to find a skill set that will help you find work, this graphic could be a great jumping off place for finding skill sets you might want to develop.


The bottom line is that there is money to be made as a service provider in the drone industry, but the most popular field (i.e., aerial cinematography) is not the most lucrative, and the areas where you’re most likely to find a solid financial foothold will require additional skill sets beyond knowing how to fly and how to operate a camera.

It will be interesting to see the data in another year or two. Things are developing so rapidly that the landscape may soon shift radically, and we’ll see mapping, surveying, and other commercial applications rise to the top of the services areas for drone service providers.

Don’t have a copy of Skylogic’s report? Purchase a full copy of the report here.

Note: If you participated in the initial survey you can get a copy of the report for free—just email info[at]droneanalyst[dot]com.

The post Show Me the Money—A Look at Where Service Providers Are Making Money in the Drone Industry appeared first on UAV Coach.

Snotbots and Polar Bear Heat Signatures: Intel Drones Support Conservation Efforts in Two New Expeditions

Today is World Animal Day, and therefore an appropriate day for Intel to release news about two recent scientific expeditions that were conducted with drones serving as a primary resource for scientists and conservationists.

In today’s press release, Intel emphasized that both their drone the Falcon 8+ and their Artificial Intelligence software—showcased recently in one of the major keynotes at InterDrone —were instrumental to supporting these two expeditions.

Which makes sense. Drones collect raw data, and AI helps process that data into actionable insights. In combination, drones and AI can provide powerful tools for doing good in the world.

Arctic Polar Bear Expedition

For their expedition to the Arctic to track and document polar bears, Intel teamed up with renowned wildlife photographer and conservationist Ole Jørgen Liodden.

Given how dangerous they are and the vast areas they cover, the ideal method for tracking polar bears is from the air, but traditional methods involving helicopters are loud, invasive, and cost-prohibitive.

Even with the use of drones, the steel found in most boats can cause magnetic fields, which can potentially confuse drone compasses, making it difficult to take off and land on a moving boat.

The primary motive for the expedition was to capture information on polar bear behavior patterns at this moment in time. As mentioned in the video above, the plight of polar bears today can help us understand where we as humans might be headed.

Tracking the polar bears’ behavior, breeding, feeding, and migration habits helps scientists not only understand the effects of climate change on the Arctic, but also the health of the entire planet.

Image source

The expedition found that polar bears did not show any signs of distress or changes in behavior when drones were flown approximately 150 to 325 feet from the animals, which is great news for conservation efforts. The less invasive the manner of collecting data, the better, both for collecting more accurate information and for making sure not to molest the animals being studied.

Polar bears are a symbol of the Arctic. If they become extinct, there will be challenges with our entire ecosystem. Drone technology can hopefully help us get ahead of these challenges to better understand our world and preserve the earth’s environment.

– Ole Jørgen Liodden

Even with an aerial view, spotting a white polar bear against the white snow can be almost impossible.

Image source

But using aerial thermography on this expedition, the bears could be easily spotted against the cold background.

This technology opens up new possibilities and research opportunities, since finding polar bears can now be done in a much quicker, more efficient manner, which in turn opens up new possible approaches for the way polar bears might be studied.

Whale Exploration

Back in June we wrote about the Snotbot being sent to the U.N. The Snotbot is back in the news now, through their collaboration with Intel and with Parley for the Oceans.

The Snotbot is a drone that helps whale researchers study their subjects by hovering over them and collecting their snot—which might sound gross, but it’s important work that helps us better understand whales and the environment in which they live.

Intel-snotbot Image source

It’s impressive to note that now, with the use of AI from Intel, the Snotbot is getting smarter and smarter.

Project SnotBot uses Intel’s machine learning technology to help the Ocean Alliance improve data analysis by running algorithms that can identify a particular whale and assess its health in real time, regardless of the presence of confounding factors, such as the whale’s unpredictable movements and limited ocean visibility.

So far, the SnotBot has been used to collect spout water from blue whales, right whales, gray whales, humpbacks, and orcas in oceans around the world.

AI is giving whales a voice to share the health of our oceans and the environment. Using AI technology, researchers can make more timely decisions in the field and better understand the rich biological data that whale snot holds, including DNA, stress and pregnancy hormones, viruses, bacteria, and toxins.

Our vision is to create a global network of digital exploration tools which generate the big data we need to identify threats with new speed and precision, so we can act on them instantly.

– Cyrill Gutsch, Parley for the Oceans founder

Closing Remarks

Regarding these two drone-supported expeditions Anil Nanduri, the head of Intel’s drone division, told UAV Coach:

From this expedition, we’ve learned that drones, like the Intel Falcon 8+, can be a way to put sensors out into the environment that are less intrusive and less expensive than manned equipment like helicopters, yet still able to reach locations that would be difficult for a researcher to get to on foot.  They are very capable platforms that can be used for novel applications beyond just the commercial roles that they were designed for.

– Anil Nanduri, Head of the Drone Group at Intel

Read our recent interview with Anil on Intel’s light show drones, and the vast creative potential they represent.

The post Snotbots and Polar Bear Heat Signatures: Intel Drones Support Conservation Efforts in Two New Expeditions appeared first on UAV Coach.

FAA Bans Flying Drones Near Statue of Liberty, Other Landmarks

Always wanted to film the Statue of Liberty with your drone? What about the Hoover Dam, or Mount Rushmore?

Well, get your flights in, because the FAA just announced a list of national landmarks that will be closed to drone flights starting on October 5th.


Yesterday the FAA announced a new policy, in coordination with the Department of the Interior (DOI), that will restrict drone flights up to 400 feet within the lateral boundaries of these DOI sites:

  • Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York, NY
  • Boston National Historical Park (U.S.S. Constitution), Boston, MA
  • Independence National Historical Park, Philadelphia, PA
  • Folsom Dam; Folsom, CA
  • Glen Canyon Dam; Lake Powell, AZ
  • Grand Coulee Dam; Grand Coulee, WA
  • Hoover Dam; Boulder City, NV
  • Jefferson National Expansion Memorial; St. Louis, MO
  • Mount Rushmore National Memorial; Keystone, SD
  • Shasta Dam; Shasta Lake, CA

The FAA will be releasing these restrictions under Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) § 99.7— “Special Security Instructions”—which states that anyone operating an aircraft in an Air Defense Identification Zone must comply with “special security instructions.” The instructions in this case are simple—drones will no longer be allowed.

Although the FAA has placed similar airspace restrictions over military bases, this is the first time they will be placing restrictions for sUAS over DOI landmarks. The FAA is currently considering additional requests from other federal agencies for drone flight restrictions using their § 99.7 authority.

Image source

The FAA will be releasing an interactive map online to help spread awareness about these new restricted locations. The link to the map will be included in the FAA’s B4UFLY mobile app. The app will be updated within 60 days to reflect these new airspace restrictions.

Operators who violate these new airspace restrictions may be subject to enforcement action, including potential civil penalties and criminal charges.

There will be a handful of exceptions for permitting drone flights within these new restricted landmark areas, but each exception will have to be coordinated on an individual basis with the individual facility and/or the FAA directly.

The restrictions go into effect next Thursday, October 5, 2017.

The post FAA Bans Flying Drones Near Statue of Liberty, Other Landmarks appeared first on UAV Coach.

Our Autonomous Future: The Matternet Station and The Drone Companies Leading the Autonomous Pack

Recently a few big releases have highlighted where we’re headed in the drone industry.

At InterDrone a few weeks back Brian Krzanich, the CEO of Intel, spoke about how the development of the drone industry is helping to push the development of AI forward. Drones are collecting such huge amounts of data that it’s driving a demand for AI to help process, analyze, and convert that data into actionable insights.

As part of his talk, an autonomous inspection was conducted of a wall with a varied surface. The drone was able to take off, perform the inspection, land, and deliver the data recorded, all with the push of a button.

Intel software then analyzed the findings from the inspection, compared them to a previous inspection, and pointed out specific changes in the facade as places where work might need to be done.

All of this was autonomous and pre-programmed.

But Intel is not the only company producing autonomous technology. In fact, “autonomous” could well be the word for 2017 when it comes to describing major advances in the drone industry—it was certainly a huge buzzword at InterDrone 2017, and it doesn’t look like it’s going away any time soon.

The Matternet Station

Matternet has been working in the autonomous space for a while now, and they just announced the release of the Matternet Station, which will allow for what some are calling the first autonomous drone delivery network ever (although Flytrex may beg to differ—more on that below).

Back in April Matternet announced successful drone deliveries to hospitals in Lugano, Switzerland, with many more planned.


Matternet is back in the news now with the roll out of their Station, which makes autonomous deliveries feasible by providing a full solution, where users can insert a package and destination, and the rest is taken care of.

The system will be used to make deliveries like lab samples, blood tests, and other diagnostics between hospital facilities, clinics, and labs. Matternet says the deliveries can be made in 30 minutes once the autonomous system is up and running.

With the Matternet Station, we’re introducing an extremely easy-to-use interface that enables true peer-to-peer drone delivery.

– Andreas Raptopoulos, Matternet CEO

Although the Matternet Station will initially be used just for medical supplies, the model it provides for deliveries could be used to create autonomous delivery systems for all kinds of goods of comparable size.


The Matternet Station is integrated with Matternet’s autonomous M2 Drone and Matternet’s Cloud platform, and it certainly looks user friendly. We’ll be excited to hear more once the network is in place and doing regular deliveries.

Flytrex Deliveries in Iceland

When it comes to autonomous drone deliveries, Flytrex is one of the companies at the head of the pack.


While companies like Flirtey and Amazon Prime Air have talked about autonomous drone deliveries, Flytrex recently launched an actual autonomous delivery system in Iceland.

The current delivery system carries packages and food orders under 3 kilograms (about 6 and 1/2 lbs) across parts of the city of Reykjavík that are separated by a bay. This means that right now, today in Reykjavík, you can order pizza, beer, or a hamburger and have it delivered to you via drone.

We currently have 20 deliveries per day, and we plan on expanding that in the near future. The thing to emphasize is that the drone delivery program in Iceland is a system that has been deployed and will continue to expand as we receive permission to fly in different routes and in different parts of the city. It’s not a one-off.

– Yariv Bash, CEO of Flytrex

The above quote came from an interview we did with Flytrex’s CEO not too long ago. Read the interview to learn more about how Flytrex is killing it when it comes to autonomous drone delivery systems.

Atlas Dynamic’s NEST

At InterDrone we got to see Atlas Dynamic’s NEST in action, which protects and stores the Atlas Pro drone while also charging it between autonomous missions.

Here’s a video we took of the NEST in action at InterDrone:

Atlas Dynamics NEST Charging Station

Atlas Dynamics just launched their NEST protective charging station for the Atlas Pro—check it out here in this video.The container can protect and store the drone while also charging it between autonomous missions, so you can literally hit a button, have the drone deployed, fly a mission, and return to the NEST, all while located remotely. That is pretty darn cool.

Posted by UAV Coach on Friday, September 8, 2017

The NEST allows you to literally hit a button, have the drone deployed, fly a mission, and return to the NEST, all while located remotely.

This technology has huge implications for missions that have regular flight patterns. Imagine an autonomous drone system surveilling a prison on a regular schedule to look for irregularities, or conducting a survey of a farm every morning at a certain time and reporting back to the farmer regarding which parts of his or her fields need attention.

It’s important to note that these examples also assume the existence of AI and software that can analyze the visual data, and provide actionable insights from it—AI and software like that described above, which helped determine the differences between a current and prior survey of a wall in a demo done by Intel at InterDrone.

Of course, as with any new technologies, the possibilities for autonomous drone systems may seem greater than the reality may initially allow.

But one thing’s for certain: autonomous systems are where we’re headed in the drone industry, and these companies are some of the ones at the front of the pack when it comes to providing functioning autonomous drone delivery systems, and technology that actually works.

The post Our Autonomous Future: The Matternet Station and The Drone Companies Leading the Autonomous Pack appeared first on UAV Coach.

Was That Legal? The Newton Case, the Viral Train Video, and What We’re All So Worried About

Last week was, to say the least, very interesting here in the drone world.

On the one hand, the Newton case was a decisive win for the drone industry. In brief, last week a court in Newton, MA struck down several drone ordinances for being in direct conflict with existing FAA regulations.

Image source

This is great news, because it sets a legal precedent: local ordinances that stand in contradiction to FAA rules will probably not survive in the long run.

On the other hand, last week we saw a video of an amazing but reckless FPV drone flight go viral, in which the pilot skims the top of a cargo train, weaves in and out of trusses in a bridge, goes under the train, and then ducks into an open cargo compartment before landing.


The video prompted chiding from many in the drone industry (including us), but also led to some questions from our community. Yes, the flight was reckless, and also bad for PR—if we were politicians, we might say that the optics here are terrible—but was it legal?

The short answer is, unsurprisingly, no: the flying we see in the viral train video is not legal.

Responding to a request for comment regarding the flying in the video, the FAA said:

…all pilots shall avoid flying directly over unprotected people, vessels, vehicles or structures and shall avoid endangerment of life and property of others.

– Les Dorr, FAA Representative

However, this response was made with the assumption that the pilot in the video was a hobbyist, and would therefore be subject to local community safety standards like those laid out in the Academy of Model Aeronautics (the original source for the quote above).

Either way, the recklessness exhibited in the video would seem to be in direct violation of FAA guidelines for drone pilots, which state: “Flying a drone in a reckless manner is a violation of Federal law and FAA regulations.”

And there is also the issue of where the pilot took off from and landed, since Union Pacific has a policy against unauthorized drone flights taking off from or landing on their land.

But the legality is, in some ways besides the point. The main reason many of us in the drone industry were shaking our heads about the video is that it makes us as a community look bad.

We’ve worked hard to legitimize drones, and that work has been uphill. A few weeks back FAA Administrator Michael Huerta said at InterDrone that Hurricane Harvey was a watershed moment for the drone industry, because drones were on the national stage for helping people, instead of for privacy or other negative concerns.

So right now, when we’re really starting to get some traction on the “drones for good” side, we’re all a little sensitive to moments like this, that could make public perception backslide into a morass of privacy and accountability concerns.

(But hey, the guy sure can fly.)

PR and Local Laws

The majority of local laws that have cropped up concerning drones, such as the ordinances just struck down in Netwon, have primarily addressed the negative ideas people have about drones and privacy.

These concerns have prompted cities and states to create blanket prohibitions against flying without explicit permission, either from the people whose property you might fly over or even near, or from the city.

As an example, here is one part of the Newton law that was deemed in conflict with existing FAA regulations:

Subsection (c)(1)(a) prohibits pilotless aircraft flight below an altitude of 400 feet over any private property without the express permission of the property owner.

Of course, since the FAA prohibits flying above 400 feet without a Part 107 waiver, this means you basically can’t fly at all in much of the city.

And there’s a reason the privacy theme has stuck around—it makes for a great story.

Dianne Feinstein, who proposed the Drone Federalism Act a little while back, has a juicy personal story about drones and privacy that she wheels out every time she talks about drones. According to Feinstein there was a protest outside her home, and when she opened the curtains to view the protest, a drone was flying right at her window, spying on her.

It’s a great story for her cause because it plays to the privacy fears so many people have about drones. But it also seems highly unlikely that the drone she saw was actually spying on her. What seems much more likely is that the drone was facing the other direction, filming the protest, and her preconceived ideas about drones and privacy made her slam her curtains shut, assuming someone was trying to film her.

So even though the behavior in the viral train video has nothing to do with privacy, the recklessness makes us wince. People are just starting to notice that drones are great, useful, and needed, and that most drone pilots are conscientious and do things by the book—we don’t need to give them reasons to think otherwise.

Why Local Laws Concern Us, and Why Newton Is Just the Beginning

Local laws are a reaction to concerns that the FAA’s Part 107 rules just don’t do enough for the private citizen when it comes to protecting him or her from drones.

On the local law side, the thinking goes: The FAA does not go nearly deep enough to protect the privacy of U.S. citizens, so let’s take things into our own hands.

This is, in fact, exactly what Feinstein’s proposed legislation would do—remove federal jurisdiction for the national airspace, and place it in the hands of states to do with as they choose.

In actuality, this would be a mess. Imagine a patchwork of regulations and local regulatory boards for drones—when you fly in one city, you pay x, when you fly in another, you pay y, and you have to be aware of the laws in each city, or county, or state, or face the consequences.

That is a world where the nascent drone industry will never get off the ground. It’s also a world where those who want to follow the law basically cannot do so, because the cost and complications are so great you’d need a legal advisor—or a team of them—for even the simplest mission.

The problem is that we are actually already living in that world, to some extent.

Back in April a study conducted by Bard College’s Center for the Study of the Drone found that flying a drone in full compliance with FAA regulations could still get you fined or even arrested for breaking local laws.

And we’ve seen this in action. Orlando passed a law at the start of 2017 that required, in part, for drone pilots to pay for a permit to fly in city limits (or, more specifically, to take off and land within city limits). That permitting fee seems similar to a part of Newton’s law that was struck down, which required drone pilots to register their drones.

North Carolina is another example—according to Dronethusiast “there are almost no areas where it’s either legal or accepted to fly a drone in [North Carolina], other than Crystal Coast.”

The list goes on and on. Does it matter that many—maybe most—of these laws are in conflict with FAA regulations and authority?

Of course it does. But until these laws are questioned in court and a decision is made, they are the law of the land. According to the Bard study, these local laws cover 133 localities in 31 states, in an area containing 30 million people. For those people, these laws are very real.

So yes, we worry about public perception, and making sure that more drone laws like these aren’t promulgated throughout the U.S. Although we might legally be in the right to look to the FAA for guidelines, and not local authorities—and it’s fantastic that the Newton case has affirmed this—we still have a long way to go before drones are generally accepted, and generally viewed as a useful tool instead of a nuisance.

And buzzing under trains just isn’t going to get us there.

The post Was That Legal? The Newton Case, the Viral Train Video, and What We’re All So Worried About appeared first on UAV Coach.

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