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The Future of Commercial UAV?

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In my daily reading I saw this article and it made me think about the past 3 years I've been trying to commercialize myself and my equipment/services.

Are Drones Destined to Be Just Another Survey Tool? - Commercial UAV News

Curious to see if others have had similar thoughts to what I'm about to express? It seems that when I first started this endeavor things were significantly different than they are today. And, I'm not so sure what has happened in the past 3 years is all progress or good.

First, equipment has evolved so fast as to make using a UAV a realistic expectation for anyone who has enough money for a Phantom 4, or now, Mavic Pro. I went to a wedding this weekend and spoke with the photography/videography crew and they confirmed this. They have 2 Phantom 4 and their rationale is that even if they crash them they are cheaper than paying a commercial UAV operator and since there is essentially no enforcement of regulations, their risk to reward ratio makes it a "no brainer."

Second, previously the requirement of a section 333 and COA were serious deterrents to the market being flooded with commercial UAV "wanna bees" trying to sell their services. Part 107 has fundamentally changed the landscape in the USA and for better or worse, appears to be flooding the market with legal operators. I spoke with another potential client who said they had just paid one of their regular workers who is also a private sport pilot, to take the Part 107. They then bought a Phantom 4 and he is their PIC for all inspection work and does his regular job when he's not inspecting. Again, their rationale is that the relative cheap price on a UAV far offsets consequences. One successful cell tower inspection with UAV pays for everything.

Lastly, as is illustrated by the article above, software is evolving and being marketed specifically to further drive down the barriers for the average joe to do most anything they currently may be obtaining through an independent UAV operator. This will continue and will further dilute the field.

I look at all this as my fleet approaches replacement age and I've invested vast amounts of time and money and have to ask myself a question. Did all the forecasters who said UAV pilots will be the next explosive area of job growth jump the shark? Honestly, I look at this and as technology advances at a blinding speed and wonder if we are at the precipice of the "UAV pilot / Remote Pilot" being nothing more than a software minder and monitor.

I figure I have to make the decision within 6 months... Do I make the big spend and update the fleet and continue to hunt business or, do I decide to just go back to making it a "hobby with benefits?"

Thanks for your thoughts and reflections in advance...
 
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I think no one knows what the future holds in this new industry but this my piece of "wisdom."
You got into drone flying because it is fun. Keep having fun. Follow your heart whether or not you want to pursue a commercial venture. Don't leave any regrets on the table.
Who cares about the rest.
 
Nicely written Dr. Continuing to hunt business will eventually be a ball-n-chain, you always want customers to come to you (you have what they want), and if that's not happening or others are going elsewhere, the company/services will die. Soon to come, there will be millions of UAVs in the air, legal to not, that's reality, like it or not. Bring up legality, whine, tell you're going to turn them in what-ever... This market, UAVs, is soon to become so saturated it's not funny and companies will be competing with David (he's 16) and lives down the street. Kinda like when NLE editing came into play. The studios hated it (it's taking food away sorta speak) now every Joe blow has editing software and can pop out videos like nothing else. Not to many people I know want to run out an buy a $70 shirt when they can get the same thing for $10 or close to it. Is a hobby with benefits a bad thing? I agree with Cactuswest, it is fun, so keep on having fun with whatever you choose. Heck, go ride a Harley naked!
 
Port....Cactus....Dr........
The engineering drone flyer will be able to do topographic surveys, but it will be difficult for him to produce great photo/video of music in the making and edit that video or finish photos in LR or PS.. The wedding photographer will eventually get flagged for illegal flying. The 16 year old down the street won't have the experience to run a business. I went through all this when photography went digital. It is even more difficult when people tell you they wont hire you because their uncle or brother etc has a great drone or camera and can do it cheaper.
What I have learned is that you get what you pay for. And paying customers is what you are looking for. Not someone who wants it because it is CHEAP. These people will always complain about the price.....let the kid down the block do it for $20.00 and feel relieved that person didn't hire you and complain so much you did it over and over and still with no satisfaction(ploy to reduce fee)

There will be job growth(opportunities) but it will settle down to the experienced pilots with an "eye" that make GREAT photos and GREAT video. You have a name already..........the kids and newbees still need to learn to walk first, run a business, learn editing/finishing AND live by the regulations. It will settle.........but I believe a lot of us here feel the same way and until it does(settle), we provide great services to those people who want quality work, we build our businesses with repeat clientele, we stay up to date with the latest trends in our industry and most of all we WILL have fun doing it.
 
There will be job growth(opportunities) but it will settle down to the experienced pilots with an "eye" that make GREAT photos and GREAT video. You have a name already..........the kids and newbees still need to learn to walk first, run a business, learn editing/finishing AND live by the regulations. It will settle.........but I believe a lot of us here feel the same way and until it does(settle), we provide great services to those people who want quality work, we build our businesses with repeat clientele, we stay up to date with the latest trends in our industry and most of all we WILL have fun doing it.

That's the way I would like to put it as well. Well spoken.
 
Port....Cactus....Dr........
The engineering drone flyer will be able to do topographic surveys, but it will be difficult for him to produce great photo/video of music in the making and edit that video or finish photos in LR or PS.. The wedding photographer will eventually get flagged for illegal flying. The 16 year old down the street won't have the experience to run a business. I went through all this when photography went digital. It is even more difficult when people tell you they wont hire you because their uncle or brother etc has a great drone or camera and can do it cheaper.
What I have learned is that you get what you pay for. And paying customers is what you are looking for. Not someone who wants it because it is CHEAP. These people will always complain about the price.....let the kid down the block do it for $20.00 and feel relieved that person didn't hire you and complain so much you did it over and over and still with no satisfaction(ploy to reduce fee)

There will be job growth(opportunities) but it will settle down to the experienced pilots with an "eye" that make GREAT photos and GREAT video. You have a name already..........the kids and newbees still need to learn to walk first, run a business, learn editing/finishing AND live by the regulations. It will settle.........but I believe a lot of us here feel the same way and until it does(settle), we provide great services to those people who want quality work, we build our businesses with repeat clientele, we stay up to date with the latest trends in our industry and most of all we WILL have fun doing it.

yea, well spoken!
 
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies. I will continue to fly simply for the joy of it no matter what. I look back over the investments I made into getting started and some were great (Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 do 95% of the work) and some were decidedly bad (S1000+ with 5DM3, full ground station, dual operator, 4 batteries, battery maintenance equipment) and only flown a hand full of times, ugh!
 
Port....Cactus....Dr........
The engineering drone flyer will be able to do topographic surveys, but it will be difficult for him to produce great photo/video of music in the making and edit that video or finish photos in LR or PS.. The wedding photographer will eventually get flagged for illegal flying. The 16 year old down the street won't have the experience to run a business. I went through all this when photography went digital. It is even more difficult when people tell you they wont hire you because their uncle or brother etc has a great drone or camera and can do it cheaper.
What I have learned is that you get what you pay for. And paying customers is what you are looking for. Not someone who wants it because it is CHEAP. These people will always complain about the price.....let the kid down the block do it for $20.00 and feel relieved that person didn't hire you and complain so much you did it over and over and still with no satisfaction(ploy to reduce fee)

There will be job growth(opportunities) but it will settle down to the experienced pilots with an "eye" that make GREAT photos and GREAT video. You have a name already..........the kids and newbees still need to learn to walk first, run a business, learn editing/finishing AND live by the regulations. It will settle.........but I believe a lot of us here feel the same way and until it does(settle), we provide great services to those people who want quality work, we build our businesses with repeat clientele, we stay up to date with the latest trends in our industry and most of all we WILL have fun doing it.

Right on.
 
I have found myself in this situation as well. I worked ma *** off doing free work at first just to have some material to show. I eventually got jobs... some that paid really well. I had gone through a period where I thought that this is more work than it's worth. Then I started raising my rates. If I want a job, it comes to me.. if I don't get it, no big deal. I will even do free stuff for my community just because I love to do it.... and Im ok with that. When someone recognizes quality for the price, I get that job. This is supposed to be fun with benefits.. or at least that's how I look at it.
 
This is akin to photography decades ago. These days (and days long gone) EVERYBODY has (had) a camera. In the days of future past, I don't know how many times I heard: "Why do I need to hire a photographer? I've got my own camera."

Owning an expensive camera doesn't make one an Adams or an Avedon. The same holds true today in the aerial arena.
 
Thanks everyone for your thoughtful replies. I will continue to fly simply for the joy of it no matter what. I look back over the investments I made into getting started and some were great (Phantom 3 and Inspire 1 do 95% of the work) and some were decidedly bad (S1000+ with 5DM3, full ground station, dual operator, 4 batteries, battery maintenance equipment) and only flown a hand full of times, ugh!
Same here!
 
Everyone has access to a word processing program on their computer. Not everyone is Mark Twain. Everyone has a camera of some sort. Not everyone is Cecil B. DeMille. Quality equipment ownership is just part of the equation of what makes a successful commercial enterprise. It's much more important to cultivate professional relationships, to venture out and learn about client's needs, and to add personal touches to your service. That can certainly be done if your industry is filmmaking. It can even be done if your industry is structural inspections. In terms of charging a living wage for your service, do it and don't look back. The bottom feeders burn out anyway, and you don't want to compete on being the lowest priced option in just about any market.
 
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Let's not forget the whole purpose of commercial UAV flights: the data and/or the analytics that come from it. Everyone here enjoys flying. If you're doing it just for fun, then it's a hobby. The value created by a commercial flight is in the pictures (and data). More and more, UAV operators and their companies will need to be adroit at a) managing huge data overload, b) skilled with the tools of their specialty, whether it's video post production tools, panorama stitching, VR, or surveying/GIS/mapping. I suspect there is not going to be a lot of furious value in competing with the kid down the street to do simple low=-to-mid-range residential real-estate listing aerial shoots. Most RE agencies will just certificate one of their in-house agents and fly cheap platforms, or not even bother and hire the kid down the street who mows their lawns on Sundays. If you have a fleet that includes an S1000 consider the fact that you have a payload capability very few others have; look at it from a payload standpoint. What can you carry, that the kid down the street with a Phantom 3 can't? ...And then point your business direction accordingly. It's not just about piloting skills, it's also the "take" and the tools on the back-end that matter. JMHO.
 
Well, I guess this puts me in the minority, but I'm not afraid to say that I'm not flying for fun. Drones are a tool that provide additional drama in the stories that I tell. That's the fun part - not defying a hole in a tree that I can squeak through because it's enjoyable to do it, or I get some rush of adrenaline from avoiding crashing into a wall in a factory with giant ceiling fans installed that push my drone toward walls and other obstacles. That all pretty much makes the job less fun, actually.

There is so much mediocre, forgettable aerial footage out there. The tool isn't what determines that. It's the PIC. What will separate the professional from the kid down the street are the methods and the RESULTS. How smooth are the movements? How did the pilot use objects in the foreground to amplify the drama of a shot or series of shots? There are conventions in filmmaking that can be adopted in drone flight. It's important to pay attention to those. Lots and lots and lots of pilots do not. Stand out from mediocrity, and you have a chance at making money and commanding a higher price than the kid down the street. In terms of making movies, that's always been the case, long before someone strapped a camera to a remote controlled aircraft.

I continue to be amazed at the question that always seems to be the first one out of any curious bystander's mouth: "how far away can that thing fly?" What? Seriously? That's the most interesting thing about a drone? So boring.
 
Hi CoastalBird. I violently agree with you that the skill and eye of the PIC (and 1st Camera Asst, in the case of a two person operation) are critical for any cinematography applications. Folks with a good showreel will always be in demand by folks willing to pay the premium for good work. The single aerial photo shot of a $100K mobile home in Pocatello Idaho for a real estate listing by a skin-flint local real-estate agency are inevitably going to be shot by "the kid down the street" charging not much more than they would charge for mowing a lawn. What's more interesting to me personally, though, is actually the metadata, not just the pretty pictures! Folks who know how to deal with it and have creative ideas for using it productively will do very very well in the coming years, I suspect.
 
Well, I guess this puts me in the minority, but I'm not afraid to say that I'm not flying for fun. Drones are a tool that provide additional drama in the stories that I tell. That's the fun part - not defying a hole in a tree that I can squeak through because it's enjoyable to do it, or I get some rush of adrenaline from avoiding crashing into a wall in a factory with giant ceiling fans installed that push my drone toward walls and other obstacles. That all pretty much makes the job less fun, actually.

There is so much mediocre, forgettable aerial footage out there. The tool isn't what determines that. It's the PIC. What will separate the professional from the kid down the street are the methods and the RESULTS. How smooth are the movements? How did the pilot use objects in the foreground to amplify the drama of a shot or series of shots? There are conventions in filmmaking that can be adopted in drone flight. It's important to pay attention to those. Lots and lots and lots of pilots do not. Stand out from mediocrity, and you have a chance at making money and commanding a higher price than the kid down the street. In terms of making movies, that's always been the case, long before someone strapped a camera to a remote controlled aircraft.

I continue to be amazed at the question that always seems to be the first one out of any curious bystander's mouth: "how far away can that thing fly?" What? Seriously? That's the most interesting thing about a drone? So boring.

I think you misunderstood. For most, flying a drone is a mean to an end (racing excluded). But enjoying flying it will yield better result. So no I don't fly "for" fun. I want to make money with my drone but I am having a ball doing it.
 
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Let's not forget the whole purpose of commercial UAV flights: the data and/or the analytics that come from it. Everyone here enjoys flying. If you're doing it just for fun, then it's a hobby. The value created by a commercial flight is in the pictures (and data). More and more, UAV operators and their companies will need to be adroit at a) managing huge data overload, b) skilled with the tools of their specialty, whether it's video post production tools, panorama stitching, VR, or surveying/GIS/mapping. I suspect there is not going to be a lot of furious value in competing with the kid down the street to do simple low=-to-mid-range residential real-estate listing aerial shoots. Most RE agencies will just certificate one of their in-house agents and fly cheap platforms, or not even bother and hire the kid down the street who mows their lawns on Sundays. If you have a fleet that includes an S1000 consider the fact that you have a payload capability very few others have; look at it from a payload standpoint. What can you carry, that the kid down the street with a Phantom 3 can't? ...And then point your business direction accordingly. It's not just about piloting skills, it's also the "take" and the tools on the back-end that matter. JMHO.
I agree with your general tenant. I do think you need to enjoy the actual flying and hobbies can be profitable. Believe it or not, my S1000 is my least used platform. I do a fair amount of work with local production companies and there are many good one's in Nashville. Most are operating on a shoestring budget and they are artists making a modest living at best. They are very budget minded and even our local camera rental center has been renting out Phantoms to production crews with some fair demand. I agree with the notion that eventually quality wins out over price but, in my "Walmart" part of the world it's hard to get the quality foothold.
 
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I like it a little bit more when it pays :) But I'll still do crazy stuff like attaching a laser pointer to my gimbal and do long exposure light-painting with it, just for the sheer hell of it. I've also been heavily involved with VR for 20 years so seing all these new VR camera systems come down in weight and complexity/ease of use has triggered a lot of experimentation, which I thoroughly enjoy as well.
 
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