Drones have flown a long way in the past few years – from fearsome military theaters to the friendlier skies of the domestic market, including delivery service, real-estate and, yes, even frat parties.
Within the next three years, the domestic industry is expected to launch into the stratosphere with an projected economic impact of $13.6 billion, creating a new frontier in consumer-class drones. But, like any new trend, the market can be confusing to the uninitiated. Here are a few tips to consider when buying a drone.
1) Set a budget: Like any consumer market, the drone industry offers a wide variety of unmanned aircrafts –from toys to industrial-grade aircraft. As with any new purchase, it’s important to establish a budget and stick with it – bells and whistles may look cool but add up quickly.
Toy-class drones (exactly what the name implies) can be purchased for as little as $80. The DJI Phantom 2 retails for around $900 for those who are serious about videography. At the higher end of the price spectrum, research models like the SkyBotix CoAx will cost you $5,000 but come equipped with “a pressure sensor, a down-looking sonar, three side looking sonar and a color camera.” Which brings us to our next point.
2) Recognize your purpose: Determining which drone is best for you will depend on many factors. What do you hope to accomplish? Will your drone be used for an occasional backyard spin or drone selfie? Tracking tornados? Farming? Live streaming video from inside a burning building?
Do you want something you can take out of the box and fly immediately with your smartphone (try the Parrot AR.Drone) or do you want to tinker and modify it for a specific purpose (check out 3D Robotics)?
Researching online sources like DIYDrones and (shameless plug) DroneLife will give you an idea of how consumers at all levels are using drones effectively and can help you select the drone that best fits your purpose. Once you find the best drone fit, it’s time for school.
3) Educate yourself: Like any new hobby or vocation, learning to fly drones requires skill which in turn requires education. Whether it’s deep conversation with an experienced hobbyist, an immersive cram session of online manuals or (for serious future pilots) enrollment in a formal drone-flight “school” like the Unmanned Vehicle University in Arizona (where students can earn a Drone Pilot Training Certificate), some form of training is a must for any would-be UAV user. Fortunately, the rise in popularit y of drones has spawned tons of meetup groups and informal learning sessions so it isn’t that difficult to connect with someone who can help you.
4) Know the regulations: There’s no greater buzzkill for a fresh UAV pilot then the long arm of John Law nipping the bud of a new drone love affair before it can blossom. Whether it’s the FAA, National Park Service or state legislatures (Michigan, North Carolina, Massachusetts and California to name a few), government agencies at all levels are clamoring for new ways to regulate a technology that’s outpacing their ability to define it. And, while some commentators point out that federal drone regulations are largely unenforceable (for now), it’s at least a good idea to know the legal landscape in your particular neck of the woods.
5) Have a maintenance plan: Let’s be clear – drones are aircraft, flying in all kinds of weather and through all kinds of wind shears. Eventually, an accident will happen – a “mayday!” moment when your drone is going to kiss terra firma hard. It will be at that moment when you will learn how skilled (or unskilled) you may be at drone repair.
So, before that happens, have a plan in place – will you send your drone off for repair or take it upon yourself to learn DIY techniques? How many spare parts will you need in your inventory and do you know how to find them? Our recommendation: buy a propeller guard and extra propellers before you start flying.
When it comes to buying that first (or second or tenth) UAV, keep in mind that, in the end, drone flight is about personal empowerment, using creativity to make the world better, and the simple fun captured in that moment when you hear the tiny engine buzz and watch the miracle of flight at a personal level.
Think you have it all figured out? Let us help you find the right drone for you with the DroneLife product configurator!
Looking for more tips? Check out 5 More Tips for Buying a Drone…
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content. He has won several media awards over the years and has since expanded his expertise into the organizational and educational communications sphere.
In addition to his proficiency in the field of editing and writing, Jason has also taught communications at the university level and continues to lead seminars and training sessions in the areas of media relations, editing/writing and social media engagement.