The market for Unmanned Airborne Systems (UAS) or drones, has exploded in the past three to five years. What was originally either a small child's toy or a military craft, now occupies a far greater spectrum of uses. Diversifying use has been driven by leaps in technology - firstly in terms of platform design, but also in developing small and lightweight sensors or cameras to use as payload. Airborne imagery for personal or professional use has never before been so accessible.
So whether you opt for a $30 beginner drone, invest in a $500 Harvey Norman special, or get into big business with a model for tens of thousands of dollars, getting your hands on one is incredibly simple. Sort of.
Actually it's not simple at all if you are fortunate enough to be in my situation! In 2014 I was lucky enough to be awarded a substantial grant to create a state of the art UAS for remote sensing environmental monitoring in Northern Australia. At the time I thought it was challenging to write the proposal, but that's nothing compared to what I face when it comes down to the real decision making!
UAS and their components are a moving feast. For example, the items in my proposed budget are no longer available. More advanced (and hopefully better) items are on the market and are constantly being upgraded and superseded. That's how quickly the technology is moving. As is the Aussie Dollar, but that's another story!
I used to have a rule of thumb which said that the sensor payload should cost less than 10% of the platform itself. It seemed sensible at the time to make that rule, to protect expensive payloads by housing them on suitably robust and reliable platforms. It still makes sense to me. But in this instance, I'm going to have to break my own rule as I really want a hyperspectral imager, and these don't come cheap. In fact for a quality sensor, the cost outweighs the platform. I'm hoping the platform will still do its job. And not crash. In the ocean.
Maybe one day we'll be able to go to our local drone dealership and test fly a few models. See which ones feel good. Which ones are likely to be lemons. And which ones don't live up to their manufacturer's claims. But not yet. We have to trust the company specs and online reviews. Even so, the exact configuration we want has not yet been created - this was always going to be a custom build. So there ARE no reviews! It's a big investment to make sure it all works. That's a lot of responsibility that both excites me and makes me nervous.
I never expected building a UAS capability to be a fast process, and therefore committed a significant amount of my time to completing the project. As I'm learning every day, this commitment was certainly not an underestimate. Embarking on a serious UAS project is not for the feint hearted. And successfully getting through the custom build and acquisition is only the beginning. Next comes the processing...
View the link below for one of my training systems.