Why I Think the Prosumer Drone Will Never Die

Innovations will flourish on drones that target the prosumer market for a long time

THE FACTS:

In the 1980 book, The Third Wave, futurologist Alvin Toffler coined the term “prosumer” when he predicted that the role of producers and consumers would begin to blur and merge. Today, the term is well accepted as a descriptor for camcorders, digital cameras, and similar goods. Prosumers are enthusiasts who buy products (almost always technical) that fall between professional and consumer-grade standards in quality, complexity, or functionality. Prosumer also commonly refers to those products.

Recently, a well-respected analyst mentioned that his firm thought that prosumer drones would disappear from the market in the near future. At the time, I thought this quite bizarre—because our research says exactly the opposite. I’m still shaking my head.

Earlier this year, we released “Drones in the Channel: 2016 Market Report,” a research study examining drone sales and distribution channels in North America. It’s the first in-depth study of drone sales that reveals the buying patterns of both consumers and professionals.  The report has a detailed analysis that calls into question the commonly held and often undefined prosumer term. I’ll summarize the salient points of that research and offer insights into why I think the prosumer drone is here to stay.

WHAT BUYERS SAY:

We approached our research without preconceptions about commonly held terms used to describe drone segments or tiers, such as “consumer,” “prosumer,” and “professional.” Since all drones sold—no matter what the price point—are purchased by a consumer, we believe the best way to sort out these terms was by understanding the purchaser’s intended use. Our findings are summarized in the chart image in Table 1.

TABLE 1 – DRONE PRICE / MARKET SEGMENTS

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Source: Skylogic Research, LLC

As you can see from the chart, “prosumer” is—as we have defined it—a very narrow category and the majority of prosumer buyers purchase their drone with either civil / commercial or public / governmental use in mind. Overall, the data we collected from the quantitative portion of this study finds 61 percent of respondents said they purchased a drone in the $1,000 to $2,000 price range explicitly for professional use.

What is even more interesting is what respondents said they paid for their most recent drone.  Figure 1 shows those results. More than half of buyers purchase drones costing between $1,000 and $4,000.  We calculate that the mid-price range is $1,400.  Readers should note that $1,400 is the approximate cost of the popular DJI Phantom 4, Yuneec Typhoon H, and the just released DJI Mavic Pro, and together these brands account for approximately 72 percent of all drones purchased in the $1,000 – $2,000 price range.

FIGURE 1 – DRONE PURCHASE PRICE POINTS

WHAT OTHER ANALYSTS MISS:

  1. The Film/Photo/Video market is—and will probably always be—the largest commercial drone market segment. Our survey data going back to 2014 and even our most recent report confirms this. Most analyst forecasts—even at the large firms like Gartner, Teal, and PwC—don’t account for the full potential of drones in that segment, nor do they incorporate any first-hand knowledge from those who’ve already operated in that segment. The photographic, film, and real estate industries have known for years that small drones are a more viable and less costly substitute for manned aerial photography. It’s also no secret that this market is already established and towers above all others both in revenue and number of existing service providers (see what I wrote about that here).
  1. All the major mission planning and mapping applications like DroneDeploy, PrecisionHawk’s DataMapper, and Skycatch Commander (and dozens more) now run with the DJI SDK. Most of these started off with applications dedicated to their own drone but soon found that most professionals want to use the simpler and more reliable DJI prosumer drones.
  1. The prosumer drone category is the only place where sales volumes and margins are strong enough for manufacturers to recoup R&D investment. As I wrote about in Sense and Avoid for Drones is No Easy Feat, you can see this trend now with obstacle avoidance technology.

BOTTOM LINE:

Prosumer drones have already created new sources of demand for aerial imaging, and this will continue in earnest. As with land-based photography and video services, the financial and technical barriers to entry are low, making it easy for businesses to begin offering drone-based services. Now that the regulatory hurdle is low with Part 107, more new entrants will create demand for this segment.

Image credit: YUNEEC

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com

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6 Tips for Avoiding Phony Dronie Consultants and Attorneys

How to steer clear of the wrong hire for your drone business

By Jonathan Rupprecht, Esq. for Drone Analyst®

It seems everyone is running toward the “drone” rush to make a quick buck. The way I see it is many of the consultants and attorneys assisting businesses with drone work are in reality experimenting on their clients. Many are unqualified in aviation but skilled in selling. Others have very questionable pasts that will not be mentioned in the marketing material.

Why is the drone industry attracting unqualified individuals? Some reasons:

  • newness of the industry
  • lack of organizations willing to do gate keeping at conferences
  • lack of reporters willing or knowledgeable enough to expose problems
  • few in the industry knowledgeable enough to understand the errors or seriousness of the situations
  • unwillingness to expose others because they themselves are somehow implicated

In light of these factors, you might need some help figuring out who NOT to hire. I outline six below.

1 – Google them like crazy.

Google their name. Google their company. Google everything you can about them as this will generally bring up things that might not have been mentioned in their marketing material.  You want to break down your research into two phases:

  • research articles or mentions for the period of time they started their business and going forward and
  • research articles or mentions for the period of time before they started their drone business.

Figure out when they started their company by asking them, looking up the filing date for their company name in their state’s department of corporations or looking up the whois website domain registration date. (While on that site, also write down the mailing address and name listed.)  Use that date and plug it into Google and then hit search. Then click search tools. Click anytime. Click Custom range. Now run a phase 1 and then a phase 2 search.

You additionally might want to throw in extra words to the Google search just to see if anything hits. For example, “Bob Smith liar fraud theft steal scam criminal crime arrest scandal expose court charged lawsuit.” I’ve been noticing that in phase two, all sorts of goodies pop up. They come from other industries where they have made a name for themselves and are moving into the drone industry where they don’t have a bad reputation.

2 – Find out if they had to hire someone in aviation

This is a big giveaway that they are new to the area. Following up on point one, some are from other industries and had to hire someone with an aviation background to make up for their lack of skills in the area.

In the phase 2 search, you might have noticed a lot of hits where they indicated they were in another industry. You need to figure out WHY they are no longer in that industry and now in the drone industry.

3 – Figure out their real name

I have noticed that some individuals intentionally change their first name. You might want to try variations of their first name. Another way to figure out their true name is to look up their government documents on their state’s department of corporations website. This is likely their true name. Sometimes they might have put down their true name and address on their whois domain registry. Go back and do phase 1 and 2 research with the new name.

4 – Ask around. Call their competitors and ask if they know anything

This can yield good results, and so can asking your friends what they know. There is a lot of word-of-mouth-only knowledge floating around in this industry. The reason is that some have personal knowledge but don’t want the info to go public because it will hurt them (maybe because they have a business deal with them, they didn’t do proper vetting before recommending their clients to them, etc.).

You can make these calls when you are searching for a consultant or attorney. While talking to Consultant B, you can say that you talked to Consultant A while shopping around.  See if Consultant B says anything. You have to be careful when doing this because the vibes you give off could cause you problems. If someone was asking me what I thought about another attorney, I would be thinking they are either wasting my time because they want to maybe hire the other attorney or they are a problem client and I don’t want them.

5 – Check with the state bar – especially if they claim to be an attorney

Determine how much “legal work” they are doing. Many consultants do everything under the sun, including legal work. Basically, the practice of law is applying the law to the facts at hand. The big problem with this is many consultants are committing the unlicensed practice of law, which is a crime in most states, because they are not attorneys but are applying the law to their client’s facts. They advise you on the law while they themselves break it.

It is always interesting that I have mentioned this and immediately get blowback from the consultants who claim they don’t think it is the unlicensed practice of law. Great! I have a wonderful tie breaker. Call your state bar—or better yet—their state bar, and ask them if what they are doing is the unlicensed practice of law. They aren’t doing anything wrong, right? I’m sure they won’t mind.

Most states have unlicensed practice of law committees and hotlines just for this. (Remember that this is a crime and states take it seriously.) A simple Google search for that phone number will return results. Call it and ask some questions like, “I’m a concerned consumer and I want to know if _____ is committing the unlicensed practice of law by offering a particular service they list on their website.”  This way you can get an unbiased answer on whether they are committing this crime.

Checking the state bar will sometimes show that some attorneys have been disciplined by their state bar. Sometimes it will show worse—that they are not an attorney, or they have been disbarred. I know of one situation that was relayed to me where a person was claiming to be an attorney at a drone conference, but was NOT. Let that sink in. Their attendance at a drone conference is meaningless. Conference organizers are not policemen. Furthermore, just because a website shows their advertisement doesn’t mean anything, either.

Another benefit to licensed attorneys is they have to pass background checks and maintain ethical standards according to their state bar rules; however, consultants do not have any gatekeepers doing background checks or third-party oversight to ensure ethical or legal compliance.

6 – Ask if they have insurance.

Insurance is there to protect you if they make a mistake. Some attorneys have malpractice insurance, but I have no clue how many consultants do. Checking for insurance is great way to weed out the professionals from the posers and dabblers while also making sure you are protected. See if you can get a certificate of insurance from them or call their insurance broker or insurance provider and confirm that they are insured.

Bottom line:

In conclusion, no industry will look out for you, and this applies to drones, too. You need to take care of yourself. And it’s wise to advise your friends to do their due diligence when hiring consultants or attorneys. I suggest that right after you read this, you do research on everyone you are presently in contact with or working with and send this article around to spread awareness.

Image credit – pixabay

5 Tips for Evaluating Online Drone Data Services

Choosing the right service means choosing a trusted business partner

THE FACTS:

In early 2014, it was easy to see that drones themselves (the aircraft) would quickly become commoditized and their value would come not from what they could do but from the data they collect. In a piece titled “Drones Revolution Means Big Data Cloud Services,” I wrote:

Cloud-based services are the future. You can buy a decent image-capture drone off the shelf for about $1,200 US, but that doesn’t make you an image information specialist. The first thing you need to realize is that flying a drone and taking pictures is merely the first step in the data collection process. Images need to be corrected, calibrated, processed, stored, and evaluated. For precision agriculture and mapping, data quality and post-processing are critical to getting real value from the images.

My conclusion back then was:

This is the future of small drones, and I suspect as their use and applications increase, small and medium business niche service providers will flourish.  And as they flourish these firms will differentiate themselves based on processing speed and the salience of their insights. Certainly the use of a cloud-based in-memory computing platform to accelerate analytics, processes, and predictive capabilities will be foundational to that differentiation.

So here we are in 2016, and Part 107 pilots are flourishing, but needing to differentiate – and success will come in part from the services offered the customer.

The good news is the current wave of development and innovation in online drone data services is focused on mapping and analytic solutions that drone business service providers can use to help customers solve real world problems – problems like infrastructure decay, crop yields, stockpile inaccuracies, improper construction sequencing, mining site logistics, etc. With so many choices, it can seem hard to know which one you should use. What advantage does one have over another? Unfortunately, the answers are not simple.  A lot depends on your business model, your target market, what functions you need, and quite frankly how much you are willing to spend.  With that in mind, I’ll outline below some simple criteria to help you evaluate the various web-based mapping and imaging services for drones.

THE PLAYERS:

This lists most (but not all) major cloud-based drone data service providers that are (mostly) drone agnostic:

THE TIPS:

Know your business objectives — and ensure your provider does, too. Before signing up with a drone data mapping or imaging service provider, make sure that provider is fully committed to understanding the use case and the industry vertical you serve. Not all do. Some providers have more experience in one industry vs. another. For example, they may promote the functionality to serve mining when in fact their core functionality is based on serving agriculture.

Know who’s behind the curtain – Choosing a data service provider means you are choosing a business partner. Businesses come and go, and enterprises should ask hard questions about the portability of their data to avoid lock-in or potential loss if the business fails. So, if you are interested in the long-term viability of that partner it’s always good to know who owns it, runs it, and funded it. For some vendors, this is easy.  For others it may take some digging. For example, DataMapper is owned by PrecisionHawk.  That was easy.  But did you know FarmSolutions is owned and run by the parent company of Dronifi?

Pay attention to security, not just cost — Security and cost are also significant factors. Unfortunately, comparing vendors’ costs and security prowess isn’t always easy. In many cases, it’s simply not an apples-to-apples comparison. What’s more, tracking down information related to a provider’s costs and security strategy can be tough, but here’s what you want to know:

  • Access privileges: Service providers should be able to demonstrate they enforce adequate hiring, oversight, and access controls to enforce administrative delegation.
  • Regulatory compliance: You and your enterprises client are accountable for the data you collect — even when it’s in a cloud service. You should ensure the service provider you pick is ready and willing to undergo audits.
  • Data provenance – When selecting a provider, ask where their datacenters are located and if they can commit to specific privacy requirements – especially if you are serving agriculture. The farmer will want to know.
  • Data recovery – You must make sure your service provider has the ability to do a complete restoration in the event of a disaster. Your enterprise customer will ask.

Check the box – When people ask me what’s the best drone service my answer is always “the one that best meets your particular requirements.” If you don’t already have a list of requirements, then it’s time to get cracking.  Here’s a starter list. Note that some of these may not apply to the industry you want to serve:

  • Mosaic creation
  • Ortho-rectification
  • 3D point clouds
  • Digital elevation models – including digital surface models (DSM) and digital terrain models (DTM)
  • Crop health analysis tools (like NDVI)
  • Volume measurements
  • Plan overlays
  • Change detection
  • Manual or automatic shape identification
  • Feature extraction
  • Object recognition
  • Annotations
  • Automated reporting and task management tools
  • APIs and outputs for use in GIS, CAD and building information modeling (BIM) software.
  • Audit history

Check their speeds and feeds – How fast do you want results? How do you want to see it? Do you need a preview? Do you want to access and enjoy full functionality on a mobile app, or is a using web browser all you need? These all matter – and may matter more to your client than to you.

BOTTOM LINE:

At this time, the drone industry appears to be rich with online drone data services.  Keep in mind there are data services like Aerotas, Kespry and SiteScan which are cloud-based but packaged together with drones. You may want to consider them as well.  And then there are desktop and server-based data analytic software solutions like Drone2Map for ArcGISPix4D and SimActive and Lockheed’s new Hydra Fusion Tools. These, too, may better fit your needs. Either way, you’ll want to do the same kind of evaluation because in the end they become your business partner.

EDITED 10/10/2016 – corrected Drone2Map as desktop / server app.
EDITED 10/11/20165 – added Pix4D Hybrid

Image credit: Skylogic Research

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com