Making Money With Drone-Based Businesses

Photography & Video Robotics
Making Money With Drone-Based Businesses

The emerging story of entrepreneurs using drones to provide marketable services is fascinating to me. Small businesses have been making money by making drones themselves for quite awhile, now, but I’m just now starting to see start-ups using drones to sell services.

Aerial photography is maybe the most obvious opportunity—surveying real estate, covering sporting or other events, stalking celebrities, assessing damage after fires or other catastrophes—but there are also all kinds of potentially lucrative (and annoying) advertising and/or promotional possibilities. And that’s just scratching the surface of the possibilities of airborne drone-based services, never mind those of land-, water-, and underwater-going

An interesting case in point is Australian Simon Jardine, whose bouncing baby drone business is called Eye in the Sky. Australia is prime country for private aerial imaging services, with its relatively low population density, ongoing development, and vast, open spaces. Jardine’s photography was recently featured in a (surprisingly upbeat) Atlantic article about drones and privacy issues, and he’s got a Flickr stream full of great drone photography. [via Boing Boing]

Eye in the Sky Aerial Imaging

28 thoughts on “Making Money With Drone-Based Businesses

  1. Adam says:

    Can’t do this in the US, not for money anyway. The FAA allows amateur, or model plane operators to operate model airplanes at 400 feet above ground level and asks that operators stay away from populated areas, or areas where injury or property damage may occur should the model craft go down.

    The FAA specifically prohibits model plane operators from operating their model aircraft for business purposes.

    1. Sean Ragan says:

      Wow, didn’t know that. This is me gritting my teeth and trying to resist ranting unprofessionally about The Federal Government. Thanks for the FYI.

    2. Mark C. says:

      There’s a difference between model hobbyist and drone aircraft Heather. You have to have a license to pilot a drone vs. flying an RC model. The average drone certification is $400,000. Insurance is easily $1mm and the documentation involved requires stringent acumen of FAA laws and regs…

  2. Nikoli says:

    Apparently, from what I’ve read in various discussions on the FAA regulations, the regs in Australia are also pretty stringent and obtaining the proper licensing is very difficult. From what I can tell from interpretations of where the FAA is headed, if you want to sell your aerial photography services (using a “drone”), you will be required to have a commercial pilots license. Yes, as in full size aircraft.

    But as it stands now, there is no legal way to do it, at all with RC aerial devices in the US.

  3. Chris says:

    I looking into doing this here in the U.S. and learned a lot about the legality. Both Adam and Nikoli are completely correct. There is no legal way about doing aerial photography from a model airplane or helicopter. Not only would you need a pilot’s license, but your vehicle would need to be registered with the FAA, and there currently isn’t any way to register a model airplane or helicopter.

    One option that is viable, is to use a helium balloon or kite with a rope connection to the ground. While this can be a lot less convenient (and not very good for video), it is 100% legal in the United States.

    1. Scott says:

      Regulations in Australia appear to be quite similar to the US. The only viable option here is through the use of balloons, kites or even a simple camera on a pole.

      Profit through UAV services is effectively prohibited in Australia. CASA (FAA equivalent) regulations limit operation to line of sight and require hard to obtain operating certificates for both the pilot and aircraft. Compliance with the regulations costs thousands, requires significant training and compliant aircraft maintenance logs, making it hard to make a profit. Hopefully a review may bring Australia’s outdated regulations into line with the emerging UAV trends.

      On the flip-side, although the regulations hinder progression, they do serve a purpose. Commercial applications may mean operators take risks a private operator wouldn’t take because money is on the line.

  4. Andrew says:

    So then how does the motion picture industry get away with it? They use remote control helicopters, and ball cams.

    1. rocketguy1701 says:

      They use fully certified pilots, or just throw a gob of money at the problem. Or both, more likely.

    2. Chris says:

      In a nutshell? They have lawyers and they are better at “taking care of things.” Odds are the FAA would just levy a fine to whomever violated the law (which would end up being the person hired to do the job, not the film studio) and they would probably just pay the $5-10k fine and move on.

  5. Daniel Kim says:

    The legal issues are kind of sad, and probably will need to be addressed formally before long. One application of R/C aerial photography and video would be to monitor a field of crops for insect damage or nutrient deficiency. As it is, patterns of insect infestation are hard to notice from the ground, but are easy to see from the air. A patch of plants that are discolored or stunted can be mapped at a glance from a picture taken from the air, but requires extensive surveying from the ground. Similarly, an area of a field that is depleted of certain nutrients can be detected by using IR or UV photography, because plants reflect these regions of the spectrum differently when under certain types of stress.

    I suppose a canny crop consultant might happen to be flying an R/C camera platform ‘for recreation’ while doing a field survey, and could just happen to notice an anomaly in the crops (nudge, wink).

  6. Alan Dove says:

    Rather than just bitch and moan about “the gummint,” people who are really interested in this or any other regulatory issue should do something about it. Here in the US, and probably in Australia and other developed countries as well, the public can petition regulatory agencies for changes in the rules. By law, US agencies have to receive these petitions and respond to them, either by changing the rules as requested or by laying out a detailed explanation of why they won’t. See this summary, or do a search on “federal petition for rulemaking” if you want to see what’s involved. It’s not a trivial process, but lobbyists do it all the time, and motivated citizens have succeeded at it in the past as well.

  7. Chris Kean says:

    Here is a pretty relavent article on the topic of UAV’s and FAA. Its an interesting read-

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  15. Heather says:

    The United States FAA regulations have provisions that allow anyone to purchase and/or operate aerial drones for personal use. There is a weight limit of 55 lbs and very sensible operating guidelines. Uncertainty only manifests if commercializing drone photography is the aim. If you were a farmer, you could buy and operate an aerial drone for your own purposes. However, you could not build a business selling aerial photographs or consulting services to others.

    1. Jeff Thompson says:

      Heather, from what I’ve read about this, the legislation Obama recently signed allowed commercial uses such as photographing real estate by drone (multi-rotor) is once again allowed, and estate photographers are back at it. They just have to stay under 400 feet AGL, and stay more than 3 miles away from an airport.

      I’m talking about radio control, not autonomous.

      1. Aaron Conde says:

        Juff, I’m very curious about what you said regarding Obama signing legislation. Where can I find the legislation that you are referring too?

  16. jack says:

    As long as you follow safe operating procedures for Model Aircraft, how will the FAA find out? They can’t even keep their air traffic controlers awake.

    1. geekrawker says:

      What I’m most curious about is why none of the RCAP businesses that have been told to stop haven filed suit against the FAA to challenge since its all still perposed rule making. If you can prove a safety track record, insurance and business license, it should be an easy court win because the FAA is simply shutting down a perfectly safe and viable business. I’m not talking about autonomous 50lb collective systems here like Hollywood is using…. A 4 pound quad flying at 50 feet line of site with a gopro poses minimal liability over a surban street for 3 minutes in the air to get a home photo. I’m not saying a glitch can’t send the quad careening into a roof or car, but at 4 lbs, it’s not going to cut someone’s head off like a 700 class collective system, and insurance will cover damages. Thoughts?

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  19. Matt White says:

    Make sure you get a good Drone/UAV insurance policy! I got mine from BWI They had some great rates!

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I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c't – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.

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