Fly high with a UAV?
Should I invest in a UAV?
At University I learnt about ‘Porters 5 Forces’, we have all been there and bought the management t-shirt! Blah blah blah My eyes glaze over!
reading Valerie King’s latest news piece on UAVs in geodatapoint (February 2016) the subject is a great topic to use due to the competitive intensity of the industry and therefore the overall industry profitability? We all see the number of so called competitors entering the industry at record levels, jumping on to the band wagon, to get a slice of the action! But how attractive is the industry? And do we actually know who competes with who? Apples with apples!
So lets sit back with a hot cup of chocolate and digest ideas to invest or not in UAVs.
Lets talk surveying from the sky’s not taking pretty pictures
Firstly, we are talking about UAVs that are related to Geospatial, not photography or photogrammetry; survey! Actually doing a survey from the sky. Using data points to accurately measure distances to build a profile of the land.
Should you invest in a UAV?
Yes, no and maybe! You need to start with your homework my friend! Why? I hear this every time I work with a client who is either trying to sell a UAV or providing a flying service to a market. So, lets start at the beginning and as simply and quickly as I can make this:
From a business perspective, what should you first consider?
Keeping the government happy
Owning or flying a UAV will expose you to the lovely fun world of regulations, and an ever-changing world of regulation! Why? Because the government are still figuring out the whole commercial unmanned flying thing! Plus, if the ‘thing’ falls out of the sky, you are in big trouble!
So, when you are looking for an amount of money to invest, make sure your pockets are deep! We are still in ‘early adopter’ stage on the good old product adoption curve!
Keeping the sky’s safe
FAA, CAA, you name it, every country has a ‘body’ who looks after the sky’s. Anything to do with aircraft, manned or not manned. So, you must be savvy when it comes to understanding the regulations; buying or selling! A rather large force to be up against! This is not market or customer related, its more the drone itself. Is it safe, is it inspected regularly, how much does it weigh (Max 20kg in UK, 25kg parts of EU and 35kg in parts of USA) ie are you legal!! As the manufacturers will know, the technology is rapidly developing, so not a cheap investment if you are thinking of getting into it seriously!
Anyone can be a pilot!
I was speaking to a client the other day and one of his dear friends said they would have a go at surveying their own patch, lucky they knew the UAV manufacture but they ended up crashing on the take off. Unfortunately even the most competent pilots will find it hard. So don’t think you can pick up a survey drone and fly it around your back yard as easily as a kite! However some UAVs do have full auto capability, making it easier to train and fly.
These things are heavy, consisting of the dry weight (ie. the bare frame aircraft) and wet weight (ie the airframe, payload and battery pack!). (Payload consists of the sensors ie. laser and IMU).
How much to insure?
I dread to think about insuring the damn thing! Blimey! Mind you, if you are smart, you will focus your sales/ service efforts on areas that are lacking in people. Note my note on ‘focus’!
An interesting point; Valarie identifies in her piece, is security of your drone. This never crossed my mind at all. But think about it, our world is changing and changing fast! What is stopping hackers actually hacking into your drone and taking control! Scary thought! Read how the ‘bad guys’ are spoofing and jamming GPS systems in small UAVs!
Then there is the housework to do
Yes, you have to get your ducks in a row! Selling or buying, you will need a process on exactly and I mean exactly “how” you do the job, who looks after the legal stuff, how you fly, what insurance covers, what the client sees and understands as well as how you handle your own reputation! A lot to think about ah! It’s not easy nor should it be. The winners of this super technology will have to have some amazingly tough skin and continue to develop process in house.
You have all been there at an exhibition, showcasing your latest product and the damn computer won’t switch on! Yep, now think about doing a survey of a quarry or race track, what happens if the system goes down or the wind is up? You have all these little things you have to think about. Therefore a check list and thorough process will need to be in place! If you are not a process person, don’t even go there! It will drive you insane! And finally…….
How do you handle all that data?
Yes there will be a lot of points to understand and manipulate, so you will need a very good software package and some geeky person to handle it! If you don’t understand the data, then your client will certainly not! Remember, the client doesn’t care how its done or what you are using, they care about the end result and is it solving a problem!!
So, you are a surveyor and you want to buy one of these cool machines… so who is your market? Where are you going to make a difference and make money?
The market can be anything you like that involves flying over an area and surveying it from above. I’m talking survey here, actually gaining data points of the land from above using a drone.
From a ‘survey’ perspective what should you consider in your target audience? Firstly, answer these questions;
- Who will benefit from a topographic survey from the air? For example;
- Clients who own a vast amounts of land
- Hard to reach area
- Numerous amounts of assets
- What are ‘their’ pain points? For example;
- Identifying drainage
- Areas of damage like land slips (deformation survey’s)
- Boundary lines
- Mapping historic properties
- What are the benefits to the client? The real benefits?
- Identifying the smallest details accurately in order not to miss important information (due to the survey grade point clouds) (photogrammetry can miss vital points and doesn’t work in the dark or on dark surfaces like moss!) (Read Ken Smerz article on Photogrammetry vs Lidar in SparPoint Group Aug 2012 for further information)
- 3D detailed documentation of historic properties
- Real life gaming (visualization / augmented reality)
- Where do they hang out? For example;
- Newspapers, journals
- Clubs, exhibitions? (you need to know in order to ‘target’ your audience easily and with little cost
With an ‘ideal customer’ in mind, what are the ‘key words’ you need to use to attract potential customers? Remember the pain points!
So you have an ideas customer, market segment and of course where they hang out. Now the hard work starts. You must begin ‘building’ a brand!
Why build a brand? The number one element is to be ‘seen’ in the targeted market. If you are not seen or heard, you will be forgotten about.
Brand awareness also builds ‘trust’ and for a survey team to purchase a high cost item like a UAV, it must have trust in its supplier. No trust, no sale and the client will go elsewhere! From a surveyor point of view who is selling his ‘services’ to a potential market segment like ‘asset tracking’ or ‘water way inspection’ – again, trust is important that you will deliver a good quality service especially since the cost of the service may be slightly more money to the client. Your direct selling approach needs to be ‘open’ and ‘clean’ and why you are charging more to do the service. Remember, the client will have a problem and they will want that problem to disappear! So make sure you inform them of the benefits of why!!
So, apart form all the barriers of entry (I’ve made this article a little bleak haven’t I), owning and using such equipment on the right market segment will give you a great return (more data, quicker to process therefore more profit and consistency of surveying…….hopefully). However, my point here is to do your homework before committing to something expensive that has lots of barriers! Good Luck!
Interested to know your thoughts on this, so get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org