Drones for Business Use – Fixed Wing or Multi-rotor?
Founded in 2011, Event 38 builds and sells easy to use drones, sensors and a Drone Data Management System-TM . Customers all over the world use our drones for Construction, Environmental Conservation, Mining, Surveying and Precision Agriculture.
June, 2015 – If someone mentions the word drone today most of us think of a four or six propeller frame with a camera mounted below thanks to their tremendous growth achieved in the consumer world. You can buy a drone that fits in your hand or one as large as a manned helicopter.
But for the business user there is another alternative, the fixed wing UAV.
So if you are a farmer, surveyor, construction company, or researcher which do you choose?
For the past four years we have been focusing on small and medium sized business and overwhelmingly, the fixed wing UAV is the drone of choice.
Drones are used today for a rapidly growing list of business purposes including: agriculture, surveying, construction, security, environmental conservation, inspection, aerial & cinematic photography, and a long tail of research applications.
As the cost of digitizing the physical world has decreased from $thousands to $pennies per acre, drone technology is solving age-old problems and creating unprecedented new opportunities. Sensor technology has also made tremendous progress – we are able to measure more things more accurately than ever before. Today we can track every single plant in a crop field at the leaf level. And for the first time, drones are able to work in areas that have been inaccessible or too dangerous to consider using manned aircraft.
Finally, we believe that we have only scratched the surface of drone, sensor, and software/analysis capabilities. As regulatory environments solidify and the technology continues to advance, the sky is the limit.
Drone Purchase Considerations
There are no real standards in our industry from which to easily make comparisons when deciding which drone to buy. In general, industrial users pick drone solutions based on several criteria:
- Application specific requirements – what problem am I solving and what and how much data needs to be collected?
- Endurance – how long and how far can it fly?
- Payload capacity – how much weight can it carry?
- Cost – what is the initial price and total cost of ownership?
- Ease of use – how easy is mission planning, autonomous flight, and data collection & management?
- Software capabilities – what do I do with the data once it’s collected?
- Customer service and technical support – how good is post-sale support if I have a problem?
So which type of drone do you choose?
Above all else, you need to consider the problem you are trying to solve. What data do you need, are there geographical and/or regulatory constraints, what analysis capabilities exist, and how much drone operations experience do you need to have? And remember that drones and sensors collect data, period. The key is in creating actionable information from the data collected.
In many cases either a multirotor or a fixed wing drone can solve the need at hand. As you might expect, there is much overlap in capabilities. However to generalize a little:
- If an application only needs limited geographical coverage (ie real estate photography) or has narrowly defined physical constraints (ie bridge inspections) and needs relatively straight forward data collection sensors (ie short video and RGB still photography) then a multirotor drone makes sense.
- On the other hand, if the user application requires wider geographic coverage (ie 500 acre farm) or needs highly specialized sensors, (ie multispectral camera, thermal imaging, Lidar, etc) or needs to operate at higher altitudes, then a fixed wing drone is probably a better alternative.
Benefits of multi-rotor drones
Many consumer oriented drones have been successfully employed in commercial applications and others built specifically for industrial use are extending those capabilities.
There are obvious things that they can do better, for example, get into confined spaces, ie under bridges, they can hover over a specific area to capture more information, and they need little space to take off and land. Here are a few pros and cons:
- Cost – Usually less expensive
- Applications – really good at aerial photography and hi resolution video
- Ease of use – good
- Access confined spaces more easily
- Endurance – less flight time
- Payload capacity – usually less weight
- Customer service – little support if you are buying a consumer drone
- Occasional bugs, ie “fly away”
Multi-rotor Summary – Most multirotor drones can fly up to 15-30 minutes carrying a still or video camera weighing less than 500 grams. They are relatively easy to use and moderately priced, usually in the $1,500-$4000 range. Leading manufacturers include DJI, 3D Robotics, and Parrot but there are literally hundreds of manufacturers from which to choose.
Benefits of fixed wing drones
When it comes to mapping anything but very small parcels, fixed wing aircraft win hands down due to the overwhelming endurance advantage. For the serious business user, this is usually the deciding factor. Additionally, fixed wing drones can fly faster when needed and can fly much higher – important for work sites above 5000’ elevation.
- Endurance – fly as much as 10x longer and cover more geography in a single flight
- Payload capacity – can carry more weight
- Applications – larger selection of sensors
- Cost – usually more expensive
- Ease of Use – not as easy as a multirotor
- Size – requires more space for storage and transport
Fixed Wing Summary – The fixed wing drone is a true workhorse for the business user. Most of these drones can easily fly a 250-1,000+ acre plot in a single flight and can carry a wider range of sensors than their multi-rotor counterparts. In general, they are priced in the $3k-30k+ range depending on the application. Leading manufacturers include Event 38, Agribotix, and Sensefly/eBee but of course there are literally hundreds of others.
Event 38 has been providing drones to business users and researches since 2012 and more than 80% of our customers choose the E384 fixed wing drone.
The E384 costs 5-20 times less than our competitors, has an industry leading flight time of two hours, and can carry a 1 kilogram payload. The E384 can fly a 1,000 acre farm in a single flight and capture data at the 2 centimeter level.
Customers have flown our drones for thousands of hours all over the world. Whether it’s a farmer in Brazil, a surveyor in Africa, or a conservationist in Belize, the fixed wing drone is the UAV of choice.
However as multirotor drone capabilities continue to increase, realtors, photographers, and others find the multirotor UAV to be their drone of choice.
We look forward to the day when both types of drones are used in combination, ie capture large data plots with the fixed wing drone and zero in on specific areas of interest with the multirotor. The good news is that as users we have so many useful choices available to us today.
our comments and feedback are much appreciated! What do you think? Contact us anytime.
Event 38 designs and manufactures drones, specialized optical sensors, and a cloud based Drone Data Management System-TM for small and medium sized businesses. Today we have customers in 49 countries using our products for agriculture, surveying, construction, environmental preservation, and other applications. Please visit our website, www.event38.com or contact us for additional information.