Drones, also known as "unmanned aerial vehicles" (UAVs), are rapidly becoming indispensable tools in a variety of industries. The global drone market is expected to grow 57.5% by 2028.
As with most other tech devices, competition in the marketplace continues to drive down drone prices and rapidly advance the technology. Affordable drones now exist that include features such as 4K cameras that can take high-resolution images and video, built-in GPS and autopilot, and collision avoidance. Safety features, reliability, control distance, and battery life also continue to improve.
If you are technically inclined and looking to start a new business, consider starting a drone business. You could also incorporate drones into your current business. Offering drone services on a contract basis could also be an ideal part-time or home-based business. Here are several drone business ideas to help you get started.
Before the development of drones, taking photographs or video from the air required the (very expensive) rental of fixed-wing or helicopter aircraft.
With the advent of low-cost drones equipped with high-resolution cameras, taking aerial images is now easily affordable for photographers. Images and video taken from the air offer a perspective that cannot be matched from the ground, and drones can safely operate at much lower altitudes and in more confined spaces than aircraft.
Photographers and filmmakers now routinely use drones to take high-quality images and video from the air, including images of:
- Sporting events
- Real estate
- Weddings and other special events
- Film and TV subjects
Photographers can work as freelancers and contract with private parties, including people getting married, real estate agents, and business owners. You can also make money from your drone photography business by selling stock photos to sites like Getty Images.
Home and commercial security is another area rife with opportunities for a drone business. A drone can capture live video footage of a home intrusion and transmit it to a smartphone as well as notify the police if necessary.
Drones can also assist in detecting other threats to property, such as fire and water leaks. Live video feeds from drones can be sent to a home or business owner's mobile device or a central monitoring facility, or directly to emergency responders.
To get started with private security, contract with a security firm or start your own. To use a drone in law enforcement, you would need to join a police agency. In either case, there are concerns around privacy and drones, so be sure to follow the laws in your area.
Search and Rescue
Drones are becoming an indispensable tool in the arsenal of search-and-rescue organizations. Aside from the greatly reduced cost of using drones instead of helicopters for aerial searches, drones can fly at night and reach areas where helicopters can't travel.
Equipping drones with infrared and/or night vision sensors allows search-and-rescue teams to detect missing individuals by heat emissions as well as visually, and drones can deliver emergency supplies as needed.
Becoming a search-and-rescue drone operator or selling, renting, or equipping search-and-rescue drones has the potential to earn you an income while doing a good deed at the same time. It's important to note, however, that many who are involved in search and rescue work on a volunteer basis, so it could be a good supplement to another business venture.
It's estimated that more than 500 people around the world have been rescued using drone technology.
A roof inspection can be an involved, costly, and hazardous process, particularly on multistory structures. With drone technology, however, building inspections can be done safely and inexpensively, making this a great drone business idea.
A drone can perform a close-up survey of the exterior of a building and deliver high-resolution video of the roof, gutters, chimneys, and building envelope, enabling a building owner to detect trouble spots in advance.
If you have a background in construction or building inspection, a drone inspection service could be an ideal business or an add-on to your existing inspection services.
Drones are revolutionizing agriculture. The ability to survey crops from the air with an inexpensive unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with a variety of sensors enables a farmer to collect an unprecedented amount of useful data, including information about:
- Soil hydration
- Variations in soil composition
- Pest and fungal infestations
Drone crop surveys can be taken weekly, daily, or even hourly as required. Accurate information allows for optimal crop irrigation, fertilization, and pest control. Reducing water and pesticide usage and maximizing crop yields benefit the bottom line and the environment.
Drone technology is by no means limited to unmanned aerial vehicles. Submersible drones have been available for decades, but up until recently they were only affordable by large businesses or research institutions.
Submersible drones can be equipped with lighting and can take high-resolution underwater images or video at a fraction of the cost of contracting with a professional diver.
Aside from photography, underwater drones have numerous other commercial applications, including:
- Environmental assessments
- Search and recovery
- Underwater inspections (including tanks, piping, boat hulls, and propellers)
- Marine research
- Law enforcement
Now underwater drones are available for less than $1,000, can be remotely controlled using a laptop or smartphone, and can submerge to depths of up to 100 meters.
Mapping and Surveying
Land surveyors are increasingly turning to drones to acquire highly accurate digital survey data from the air in a fraction of the time (and expense) required by survey teams on the ground.
Using base station reference data and GPS, specially equipped drones can gather three-dimensional cartographic information with an accuracy of within one to two centimeters after processing. Cartographic surveys are used in many fields, including:
- Flood and pollution monitoring
- Forestry management
- Mining and oil and gas
- Urban planning
If you are looking to start a business in land surveying or cartography, drone services could be an ideal way to get a jump on the competition. You will need a bachelor's degree in an applicable field and a license to get started, however.
Drone Sales, Repair, Training, and Customization
Drones are fragile devices that are prone to failure and damage, particularly if misused. And even though prices have declined significantly, most drones are still too expensive to simply throw away.
If you are an expert with drones and are mechanically inclined with a knowledge of electronics, then drone sales, repair, and customization could be lucrative businesses for you.
Drones require knowledge and skills to operate safely, creating a demand for experienced drone instructors. If you have the appropriate UAS (unmanned aircraft system) skills, experience, and FAA certifications, why not offer your services as a trainer?
Commercial, Industrial, and Insurance Inspections
As with roof and building inspections, drones are increasingly being used in other industries for inspections that are costly or hazardous for humans to perform, such as the following difficult-to-assess structures:
- Cell and TV towers
- Power lines
- Solar panels
- Wind turbines
Drones can also be used to survey damaged areas for insurance claims.
Whether operating a drone for hobby or commercial purposes, consider purchasing damage and liability insurance.
While greatly decreasing in cost in recent years, a drone is still an expensive piece of equipment and can be lost or damaged through equipment failure, accident, or misuse. Damage insurance can cover the cost of repair or replacement.
Drone usage also comes with potential liability issues. For example, if your drone runs out of battery power and crashes into a vehicle or a group of bystanders, you could be liable for property damage or injury. Make sure you investigate liability insurance if you intend to operate your drone in situations that could put people or property at risk.
Drone Operator Licenses
The guidelines for owning and operating a commercial drone (Part 107 or the "small UAS rule") are fairly straightforward.
First, you have to be at least 16 years old and pass a background check by the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA). You must be fluent in written and spoken English.
Next, you have to pass the FAA’s aeronautical knowledge test, which you’ll take at an FAA-approved knowledge-testing center. Before taking the test, familiarize yourself with drone regulations and restrictions, including emergency procedures.
Once you pass, the FAA will email you a temporary license. Your permanent license will arrive in the mail in a few weeks.
Remember that you may not fly your commercial drone in certain places, and regulations govern its use.
How to Get a Drone Business Started
The more time spent on due diligence and advance preparation, the greater your odds of starting a successful business, and that applies to starting a drone business. Here are a few steps to get started:
- Do some preliminary market research: Survey businesses and potential clients in your locale that might benefit from drone services.
- Find out whether there are any competitors: Is the target market already saturated?
- Write a business plan: This is critical, even if you don't need debt financing for startup capital to get your business going.
Checking the current regulations will be the first thing you want to do when you're thinking of starting a drone business.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established a set of guidelines and regulations to allow the use of drones for commercial purposes without the need for the operator to hold a pilot's license.
Here are some of the key regulations for the use of drones for commercial purposes:
- Drones weighing between 0.55 and 55 pounds must be registered. Registration must be renewed every three years.
- Before every flight, the drone must undergo a pre-flight inspection to ensure that it is airworthy.
- Drone operators must keep drones in sight while flying.
- Commercial drones may only fly in the daytime, but twilight flying is allowed with the use of anti-collision lights. (Drones used in search-and-rescue and other official public safety operations are usually exempt from the night-flying rule.)
- Drones may not fly higher than 400 feet or faster than 100 mph.