Ten Things You Need To Know Before Buying a UAV

Posted: 4/24/2014

#4. Higher priced, more expensive units are not necessarily the best unit for you.
The higher the cost does not mean a better unit. Knowing what you need the unit to do and matching the application to your prospective unit is far more important. What level of accuracy do you need? Will you require the ability to add additional cameras such as a Near Infra-Red, Multi-Spectral, Flash Camera or something specific to your industry? Will you work in 2D, 3D or only photogrammetry? Do you work in areas that have extreme weather or wind conditions? Having a basic understanding of these questions will help you to narrow your search.

#5. How accurate are these units?
Generally these units are accurate to 5cm of vertical. If you put in ground targets, the accuracy can improve to 3cm - 3.5cm, and if you are using a unit with an RTK our vertical accuracy is closer to 2cm. As in most things, you are going to pay for what you get. A unit that delivers 2cm accuracy will cost you roughly $80,000 to $100,000; while units that deliver 3cm (using ground targets) to 5cm vertical accuracy will cost $25,000 and up. If you don't need 2cm accuracy then don't pay for it. For customers doing large areas, farms, stock piles or mines; getting even 5cm accuracy over the entire area is very unlikely using current surveying tools. Even if you were to concede that it was possible to actually get better vertical accuracies using conventional robotic total stations and GPS, the time to achieve this accuracy is cost prohibitive. To achieve a 5cm vertical accuracy over a 100 acre area using a UAV would take just under an hour. This would take days or weeks, maybe longer to achieve this level of accuracy using traditional methods.

#6. Who you buy your UAV or UAS from matters.
As UAV's become more widely available and less regulated, more companies will likely be entering the drone market trying to sell you their UAV. What do they really know about competitive units? What kind of expertise and support do they offer? Do they offer training and help with repairs? Are they a service center or do they need to send your unit out to the manufacturer? Can they help you to match the correct UAV to your needs... or are they only out to sell you something? It will be in your best interest to work with a reputable dealer that specializes in support and service.

#7. How durable are UAV's and where does the damage to units generally occur?
Most UAV's are very durable. Barring an incident where the unit runs into something, or units are being flown in higher than recommended winds, most UAV's will last a long time. Durability, however may be counter-intuitive. Larger, heavier and thick-skinned units may seem as though they would be more durable, however, this is not necessarily so. Many of the current units available today do what is called a "Belly Landing". This means the unit lands by contacting the ground on the belly of the plane. Larger units often do what is called a "hard belly land" and contact the ground with a lot of force. The more heavy contact, the more damage to the bottom of the plane, the more limited the life expectancy of the unit becomes. You should look for units that have ground sensing systems which allow the units to know when they are about to make contact with the ground, reverse their propellers and thus make the belly landing a soft landing. These systems greatly increase the time you will own the unit and reduce your costs over time. Lighter units with ground-sensing radar are generally the most durable
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#8. The software matters!
Depending upon your requirements, software can be the biggest challenge with UAV's. You want to be sure that the information the UAV collects, can be easily processed and exported into standard software that you are already comfortable to working with. Having to learn an entirely new software system that will not integrate with your existing software, is generally less than ideal. The harder it is to integrate, the less likely you are to use it, and the more likely you will have a piece of lightly used technology sitting on your shelf.
Generally, you want to find software (both the flight software and the processing software) that is easy to use, easy to understand, and easy to work with. Being able to customize the flight plans and processing is a critical component to getting the results you need
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#9. What kind of work do you want to do with your UAV?
Do you want to do standard mapping and survey work? Will you be working in agriculture with farms that need crop or vegetation studies? Will you be specializing in disaster relief, animal studies, mining or other specialized applications? Will you be working in high wind areas like in the mountains, where rain and weather may also be a factor? By answering some of these questions ahead of time you can narrow down what cameras and options are necessary and which options are "nice to haves."

#10. Is the unit you are purchasing easily upgradeable?
Generally when you are making your initial purchase you have a target customer in mind. However, often times you find that there are other markets that you want to service once you have purchased your UAV. You do not want to buy a lot of extra accessories on the chance that you "may" someday service that customer base, thereby increasing your costs. If you do not have 2 -3 customers "right now" it may not make sense to purchase extra cameras and options.
What is very important is that the unit can be easily upgradable in the event that you do find other markets to use your UAV which you may be unaware of presently? What will it take to upgrade? Will you need to simply purchase an additional camera to add these new segments, or will you need to purchase all new software? Thinking about these questions ahead of time can save you thousands of dollars later.

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