Drones Are Doing More In U.S. Than You May Know, As These 3 Companies Show

Five years ago, the pundits predicted that by now we would be seeing tens of thousands of drones buzzing over our heads delivering everything from pizzas and burritos to the latest “must-have” item from Amazon. So what happened? Where are they? In a nutshell, they are here, but the general public doesn’t see them—at least not daily—and they aren’t necessarily delivering what was predicted.

The fact is that commercial drones fly in remote areas or over private property every day by the thousands. They’re performing work on farms, powerlines, construction sites, cell towers, and oil pads, especially in the U.S. where there are more than 118,000 FAA-certified remote pilots. Compare that to the U.K., where there are just under 5,000.

Delivering pizzas and burritos will likely be a very small part of what drones will be doing in the future. According to the largest benchmark study on commercial drones, the bulk of all current industrial use outside of film, photo and video falls into two categories: surveying and mapping land areas and inspecting and monitoring physical structures. And it’s these two uses that will continue to drive the growth of drones for industrial use for many years to come.

Three companies represent this growth and are worth getting to know: PrecisionHawk, DroneDeploy and SkySkopes. In many way,s they are emblematic of the current state of the growing commercial drone industry and provide insight into its future.

PrecisionHawk

Founded in 2010 and headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., PrecisionHawk was one of the first vendors to offer a full end-to-end enterprise drone solution stack. That stack included a drone aircraft with advanced sensors, software, analytics, and contracted services for inspecting things like oil well pads and utility lines and more. (“Advanced sensors” refers to specialized cameras on the drone that detect things like crop growth patterns.) With over $107 million in investment and more than 180 employees, PrecisionHawk has some large customers, including ExxonMobil, John Deere, Monsanto, and Verizon. They offer services in more than 150 countries and have a network of 15,000 pilots.

Two things illustrate how PrecisionHawk leads the industry. First is their regulatory experience and FAA partnership. Second is their focus on operating drones beyond the pilot’s ability to see them, or “beyond visual line of sight” (BVLOS). PrecisionHawk was one of a few companies to partner with the FAA on its Pathfinder Program, and the company’s work is informing current FAA regulations and BVLOS policy. PrecisionHawk also understands that as the commercial drone industry evolves, widespread BVLOS drone inspection has the potential to significantly change business models for many industries. With their programs and papers like “The Economics of Using Drones for BVLOS Inspections,” they educate businesses and help them evaluate when it’s best to use traditional ground and manned aviation, line-of-sight drones, or BVLOS drone inspection approaches. PrecisionHawk is unique in evaluating the costs and benefits of BVLOS operations compared with traditional operations, which allows businesses to plan an aerial intelligence strategy that delivers the most value for the money.

DroneDeploy

San Francisco-based DroneDeploy provides software that controls drone flight plans and workflows as well as processes the images they collect. They have more than 4,000 global customers mapping and assessing everything from construction progress, to disaster recovery, to agricultural crop vigor.  Founded in 2013, the company partnered with leading drone manufacturers to provide its software to operators in a variety of industries, including agriculture, real estate, mining, construction and many other commercial and consumer arenas. Having raised $56M in funding, DroneDeploy started by selling software directly to pilots and later added selling through the channel that supplies mid-size companies and then added direct sales to enterprises and resellers.

By every measure, DroneDeploy has the most popular non-OEM mapping flight application on the market. They boast that their software processes over 100 million images per year and measures more than 10 million distances a year (for instance, between objects). But they are not resting on their laurels. Drone use by surveyors and mappers is rapidly becoming more sophisticated, and as that’s happened, DroneDeploy has been pushing boundaries more than any vendor. Their app market is the largest set of industry-specific integrated applications available.

Part of what has made DroneDeploy (and the drone industry itself) so successful has been the consumerization of drone technology. What others missed but DroneDeploy didn’t was the foresight to see that the prosumer drone category would be the only place where sales volumes and margins would be strong enough for aircraft manufacturers to recoup R&D investment. That’s why, early on, they pivoted from open source-based aircraft to DJI drones since DJI is and has been for four years the dominant player in the space. Last year, DJI’s market share for drone aircraft was 74%. As a result, all the major mission planning and mapping applications like DroneDeploy and dozens more now integrate with or run on DJI’s products. Most of them 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. DroneDeploy made that bet early, and it has paid off.

SkySkopes

Whereas PrecisionHawk offers a full drone stack and DroneDeploy offers software, this last company doesn’t manufacture anything. They provide drone services. And in a field of more than 30,000 service companies, very few stand out as full-time ventures—let alone as profitable and growing—but SkySkopes does. They succeeded because they specialized. Based in Grand Forks, N.D., SkySkopes started in 2014 and has grown from a small startup with four part-time employees to over 18 full-time employees and four offices across the upper Midwest. Over the years, SkySkopes has refined its focus to strictly providing aerial services for the energy industry and now has operations in California, Texas, Minnesota, Florida, and Europe.

What makes SkySkopes successful is they are not afraid to push the limits of drone technology. Their specialization in acquiring aerial data with advanced aircraft has landed them projects with CenterPoint Energy, Duke Energy, Xcel Energy and a host of others. SkySkopes and NASA have also teamed up over the past few years to demonstrate and test BVLOS use cases for the UTM project to integrate civilian low-altitude airspace and unmanned aircraft system operation. All this landed CEO Matt Dunlevy a seat on the advisory board of the Energy Drone & Robotics Coalition, the only event exclusively focused on the business and technology of aerial, ground/surface and subsea robotics in energy operations.

Together these three companies encapsulate the present state of the growing industrial use of drones. Clearly, that’s not what the media prefers to focus on since it’s not sexy drone pizza delivery. But it’s important work with great business benefits to specific industries.

This article first appeared on FORBES.com

Image credit: Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg, © 2019 BLOOMBERG FINANCE LP

What Every CIO Needs To Know About Commercial Drone Data

This post first appeared on Forbes.com as Drones Pose A Unique Big Data Challenge For Business Users

The public might consider them nuisances, but in the commercial market, drones are valuable data collection devices. Their primary task is to capture, store, and transmit data. So as IT departments consider integrating more drone data into existing enterprise business processes, they face new data governance requirements. As drone technology matures, it is important to know what it means for you as the steward of your firm’s information technology and software.

Drones present both a big data and an IoT challenge

Up to now, the focus of commercial drone use has been on accurate data collection and visualization—not IT process integration. To be fair, applications have been developed to support verticals like agriculture, construction, energy, mining, and telecom with cloud-based services, but these applications mostly produce and serve up maps, e.g., location maps for managing and servicing company infrastructure and other assets.

Just as with big data, the challenges of drone data include analysis, curation, search, sharing, storage, transfer, visualization, and information privacy. We are already beginning to see drones efficiently replace static IoT sensors with one device that is in motion and can capture multiple types of data (so not just pictures and video, but also emission gases, radio signals, geodetic data, etc.).

Is drone data that unique?

Like all IoT devices that are in motion, drones bring a lot of value and at the same time have a lot of challenges. For the most part, drone data is geospatial (or geographic data), imagery, videos, binaries, etc., so falls into the category of non-standard IoT data. However, if you work in IT, you’ll want to understand that this data has some unique requirements. F For example, it requires image recognition analysis and considerable transformation and data parsing to become useful.

A lot—if not most—of the data collected from drones can be used by geographic information systems (GIS).  GIS are mostly used for mapping and analyzing, and they integrate common database operations—such as query and statistical analysis—with visualization and geographic analysis. So, think mapping tools like esri’s ArcGIS.

Data governance implications

When dealing with drone data you may need to expand your current data governance policies because of new risks associated with aerial data itself (like privacy concerns) and the location and operations of the drone (because a drone is legally an aircraft and operates under certain regulations). For example, you may need to revisit policies regarding:

  • Source aviation system, its access, and APIs
  • Security and reliability along the “chain of custody” (drone service provider, to the cloud data service, to your front door)
  • Privacy and risk mitigation (legal issues)
  • Traditional Master Data Management (MDM) to straighten out the differences in reference data like location, asset type, customer name, etc.
  • Archive of source data for later re-processing (do you trust the custodian?)
  • Access control (who gets to see what and when?)

Learning a new lexicon

As you start integrating drone data, you should familiarize yourself with the most common types of processed “processed” data from drones—not the raw data, but the data produced by imaging software and the ones you’ll most likely come across if you’re in IT. Here are five examples:

An orthomosaic is an aerial photograph geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) such that the scale is uniform: the photo has the same lack of distortion as a map. Typically, an orthomosaic is a composite of individual photos that have been stitched together to make a larger one. What you need to know is that the individual photos that make up orthomosaics each have their own georeference. The processed data (the composite) is what your end users want to use, but they may also want to know the location of the source data if it needs to be referenced later. Think about this in data governance terms. You may need to revisit your data retention rules if the source images are needed for evaluating changes over time.

Thermography (sometimes referred to as thermal imaging) uses thermal video cameras to detect radiation in the long-infrared range of the electromagnetic spectrum. Building construction and maintenance technicians can see thermal signatures that indicate heat leaks in faulty thermal insulation and can use the results to improve the effectiveness of their work. Thermal mapping is also “a thing” with vendors like DroneDeploy, which offers live streaming views, and can either be an image or a map.

Photogrammetry is a technique which uses photography to extract measurements of the environment. This is achieved through overlapping imagery, where the same feature can be seen from two perspectives. With photogrammetry, it is possible to calculate distance and volume measurements. Departments use these outputs to create “point clouds” or 3D images used to do things like render a building or measure the volume of a stockpile.

LiDAR stands for “Light Detection and Ranging.” It is a remote sensing method that uses light in the form of a pulsed laser to measure ranges (variable distances) to the Earth. These light pulses—combined with other data recorded by the airborne system—generate precise, three-dimensional information about the shape of objects and their surface characteristics. The accuracy of LiDAR images is stunning (we’re talking millimeters), which is why surveyors and construction engineers favor this technology. What you need to know is that LiDAR files are big. Datasets for a simple project area can be 1-2 TB.

Video is the most common and at the same time the most complex type of drone data. It’s complex because video is almost always stored in compressed form to reduce the file size for storage. A video file normally consists of a container format holding video data in a coding format alongside audio data in an audio coding format. Those are known as CODECs. The container format can also contain synchronization information and metadata such as GPS location and directional data, which can be encoded in each frame. 10 minutes of video at 30 frames per second = 18,000 frames. It’s complex because, when analyzing video data, you have to sort through all 18,000 pieces of frame data.

So here’s the big data problem—it’s the analytics. Most of what you want to know from images and video files (What can I see? What is happening? What is the value?) cannot be extrapolated by the traditional enterprise big data vendors. While automation can exploit this data and increase analysis efficiency, image and video analysis is more often done by teams of specialists. For this, you may want to outsource to an AI vendor that specializes in imaging or use an online drone data service.

 

Image credit: A SZ DJI Technology Co. drone is displayed during keynote presentations on artificial intelligence at the Microsoft Developers Build Conference in Seattle, Washington, U.S., on Monday, May 7, 2018. Photographer: Grant Hindsley/Bloomberg photocredit: © 2018 Bloomberg Finance LP

Measuring Success in the Drone Market

If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.” – Peter Drucker

The $118M Airware failure is a cautionary tale for all potential commercial drone investors—as well as all existing commercial drone market participants. To avoid such failure—whether you are drone aircraft manufacturer, software vendor, service provider, business enterprise, investor, or public agency—you need the most reliable market data possible—not just best guesses.

I still believe the #1 misconception in the drone industry is how fast it will grow, which sectors will grow, and which ones will lag. As early as 2014, we wrote about this problem and warned about using unreliable data to measure the potential market for drones. Back then I said drone market forecasts abound. At that time there were 22 independent companies providing market forecasts, and each of them projected growth for the drone or unmanned aerial system (UAS) sector that was nothing short of phenomenal. Today there are 84, most still projecting remarkable growth.

Our observations:

  • We see a lack of objective information on drone industry market segments.
  • We find there’s an absence of credible market-based research.
  • We see little understanding of the difference between large industry forecasts and actual business user adoption rates.

Example of success

Despite the big disconnect, there are some big success stories in dronelandia—successes that can be attributed in great part to managing with good data.

Take DroneDeploy, for example. They report over 30,000 users that log over 65,000 flights per month. These users have mapped over 250,000 sites and uploaded more than 75 million images in the last 12 months.

By our accounting (results from our 2018 benchmark survey of over 2,500 drone industry participants), DroneDeploy has the #1 market share for agriculture and construction in automated flight / mission planning and data / image / video processing—despite having 16% and 12% overall share in those two software categories, respectively. All vendors continue to push out innovations, but it’s DroneDeploy that’s pushing boundaries more than any vendor. Their app market is the largest set of industry-specific integrated apps available.

How did they get to be so successful?

DroneDeploy operates in one of the most crowded segments of the commercial drone market—software. We track over 130 vendors servicing the two software categories in which they compete. Last year our data showed they lead with more agriculture industry market share than anyone but lagged in construction. This year, however, they targeted construction, and the results show it.

One reason for DroneDeploy’s success is they were able to track their results with data—data that we provided from custom queries tailored to their objectives that were included in their research sponsorship over the past two years.

Bottom line

The quote by Drucker above means that you can’t know whether you are successful unless success is defined and tracked. With a clearly established metric for success, you can quantify progress and adjust your process to produce the desired outcome. Without clear objectives, you’re stuck in a constant state of guessing.

If you have questions about how we can help you make critical investment decisions with confidence, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

 

Image credit: Shutterstock and Skylogic Research

Top 40 Drone Data Services

 

In this August 2018 report, we list the top software applications and data services for processing drone images.

This one-page report includes

  • Vendor name
  • Product name
  • URL link to the website

 

Read more about drone data services in 5 Tips for Evaluating Online Drone Data Services.

Complete the form to get your free report

 

Is Sky-Futures Expanse Drone Inspection Software Good for All?

Sky-Futures cloud-based drone inspection visualization and reporting software squarely targets the asset inspection sector, but will it be broadly adopted?

 

THE FACTS:

No one questions whether the founders of Sky-Futures know what they are doing.  When it comes to drone inspections they have “been there, done that.”  You can read about their history and where they are going in The importance of industrial experience when enabling enterprise with drone capabilities, a post written by co-founder & CEO James Harrison. I won’t repeat all the facts, just the salient one.

When they started in June 2009, they assessed different markets, sizing them and then trying to forecast how they would look in 5 and 10 years’ time. They chose the drone inspection service market in the oil and gas (O&G) industry because of its highly inaccessible, highly hazardous and critical infrastructure, and its focus on safety and regulation. They succeeded in understanding the very specific needs of the industrial inspections market, got steady revenue stream, and have now turned to offering a software-as-a-service (SaaS) product as another generator of their future value. Their product is called ExpanseSM and is designed and built for drone-based operations management, inspections, data analysis, and reporting.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT

There’s a lot to like about Expanse.  For one, it has an asset-centric view of the world—not an inspection-centric one.  In the inspection-centric view, reports provide little context for consumers of the information on the “who, what, where, and when” of problems. By taking the asset-centric view, Expanse starts with the “where” (a specific structure) and allows users to navigate to the areas of an asset that’s important to them—the “what,” like a rusty pipe or misaligned cell tower antenna. Everyone reading inspection reports has a different need (not everybody has responsibility for the integrity of pipes), so the software provides context.

The other thing that is very smart about Expanse is that all elements of the software are built around the deliverable—the inspection report. In this regard, it starts with the end in mind. How Covey-ish is that? The software enables drone inspection firms to share analysis reports with multiple stakeholders. Customers and third parties can access the media with security controls. It uses leading edge security protocols (like web-based video streaming), where unique permission holder access information is generated for each media file at runtime and cannot be shared with others. This should please enterprise privacy and risk mitigation legal beagles and IT data governance stewards.

There’s a whole host of features that users will like, such as the ability to make 3D links to objects that can be marked up with annotations, measurement, and observational classifications. Additionally, Expanse comes with image analysis tools for scaling, measurement on the incident plane, focus problem area size, comparisons over time, etc.

THE COMPETITION:

Expanse is new to the market, and it’s clear it was built around the needs of Sky-Futures’ O&G clients as consumers of the data. Sky-Futures’ hope is that its software’s features will translate to the requirements of the entire vertical infrastructure inspection market. They hope the integrity, inspection, and business drivers for a bridge, wind turbine, cell tower, and other managed facilities and structures share the same key characteristics that are addressed by their O&G-focused Expanse software.

We have written about the needs of the inspection market in The Truth about Drones in Construction and Infrastructure Inspection, and we think Expanse has a head start on the path to greater adoption. But we also think there will be a struggle for enterprises using drone data in general. That struggle is learning how to integrate the inspection data and analytics from software like Expanse into broader, more highly adopted software used for enterprise asset management (EAM), such as Infor EAM, Oracle EAM, and SAP EAM.

Infor may have leap-frogged all of this with their Drone Enterprise Asset Management Solution (DEAMS), which is also offered Drone Aviation Corp. Infor’s DEAMS uses purpose-built middleware that processes the data collected by drones’ onboard sensors and integrates it with Infor EAM and its maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) applications. The data from DEAMS can also be analyzed with easy-to-use analytics to produce up-to-date information about the asset life, allowing for quicker and more effective decision-making.

BOTTOM LINE:

So, stepping back, one question remains: In the long run, will large enterprises employ service providers who use software like Expanse, or will they opt for integrated solutions like DEAMS? There may be a middle ground when Sky-Futures (or a third party) offers integration plugins for broader EAM solutions. We’ll see.  In the meantime, we expect that Expanse will continue to evolve and offer new features that other customers outside of O&G want.

Image credit: Sky-Futures

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com

DroneDeploy: Enterprise Grade or Not?

DroneDeploy’s new App Market fills a need for commercial drone use, but can the data quality measure up for widespread industrial use?

THE FACTS:

This past week, DroneDeploy introduced its new App Market, a store for drone applications from a range of companies—including Autodesk, Box, John Deere, and 13 others—as well as a variety of industry verticals. Additionally, it includes applications from Airmap, Dronelogbook, Flyte, Kittyhawk, NV Drone, Skyward, and Verifly that help pilots and businesses manage drone operations and compliance.  In a nutshell, these apps enable enterprises and drone-based business service providers to automate their workflow and data integration with specialized tools built right within the DroneDeploy user interface.

In one way or another, the apps enable businesses to extend the capability of DroneDeploy’s automated mapping and online drone data services with apps that augment flight planning, logging, data analysis, export, and more. Apps appear in different areas of the DroneDeploy interface, depending on what they do, and you install them in your DroneDeploy account. For example, a flight planning app will appear in the flight planning interface, whereas an export or integration app may appear in the export menu. You can read about the details of this announcement here.

WHAT’S COOL AND WHAT’S NOT

The three apps that stand out in this announcement and make progress toward workflow goals are Autodesk, Box, and John Deere. In a generic sense, “workflow” is the definition, execution, and automation of business processes where tasks, information, or documents are passed from one participant to another for action, according to a set of procedural rules. Workflows automate the flow of employee tasks and activities and make processes more efficient, compliant, agile, and visible.

With the Autodesk app, users can send their maps and 3D models directly from DroneDeploy into their Autodesk Forge storage. The Box app on DroneDeploy lets users easily export maps to their Box account for easy sharing with clients or other enterprise software solutions. With the John Deere app, users can import field boundaries from MyJohnDeere, which can help align flight planning with ongoing management of farm machines, fields, and jobs.

 THE COMPETITION:

In the past, many have discounted the output of DroneDeploy’s processed data as not good enough for enterprise work. This stems largely from the fact that almost all of their users fly and capture data with prosumer-level drones from DJI. For example, one of the main criticisms I’ve heard is that the resulting point clouds are not resolute enough for construction or engineering work. However, one look at this webcast with Brasfield & Gorrie, one of the largest privately held construction firms in the United States, and you can see first-hand the specific projects that have among other things integrated DroneDeploy automated mapping in their Building Information Modeling (BIM) process. Their plan is to scale this program across their sites.

Let’s be clear. This trend toward the use of prosumer drones for enterprise work is not going away anytime soon.  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-level and above drones.  Additionally, the prosumer drone category is the only place where sales volumes and margins are strong enough for manufacturers to recoup R&D investment with new technology like automated obstacle avoidance.

BOTTOM LINE:

We have written about the value, ROI, and potential of drones as aerial image and data capture devices in The Truth about Drones in Construction and Infrastructure Inspection. In that report, we discuss the benefits and challenges posed by the current state of drone data integration:

Drones and the data from drone data services do not provide a complete solution, and more likely than not, you’ll need to traverse a learning curve. For example, the firms mentioned in this paper had to set up new data integration workflows for their existing ecosystem of software solutions.  Those who used aerial images from drones to do BIM design work had to incorporate those images into CAD software like Autodesk REVIT.  Those who did work plans with images had to incorporate the images into project software like Navisworks.  Both camps had to learn how to manage daily workflows from constantly changing sets of new images.  Workflows needed to focus on how to both communicate and manage change – either in the feedback to design or in the feedback to production or to both at the same time.

To be fair, the apps in the new DroneDeploy App Market don’t solve all those problems, but they’re certainly a step in the right direction.

What’s next? I suspect we will see more workflow integration from DroneDeploy (and others) this year. They’ve hinted there’s more to come from their work with John Deere.  Personally, I’d like to see a complete automated workflow from DroneDeploy to SAP. Why? Because SAP software is used by 87% of the Forbes Global 2000 companies, and SAP customers produce 78% of the world’s food. SAP has an integrated suite of applications for just about everything that encapsulates aerial data and maps – from asset management to field service management.

DroneDeploy already has a beta release of an integration with Esri, which will allow users to analyze their DroneDeploy maps in ArcGIS Online.  SAP HANA users can integrate ArcGIS maps and SAP business data throughout SAP products, but I haven’t seen an end-to-end customer-specific use-case. If you are working on that, let me know—I’d love to hear about it.  You can write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: DroneDeploy

This post first appeared on DRONELIFE.com

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