If you’ve ever wanted to get in on the proverbial ground floor of an industry, now might just be the time to do that with drones.
For individual drone operators, the business possibilities generally involve using drones to look at things. Providing an aerial view can serve a wide range of purposes and industries, and the investment to start a drone-based business is relatively modest.
Entry-level drones can be fairly cheap — it would make sense to learn on one of those — with some running less than $100.
For a business, you will likely need something more sophisticated. High-end drones can cost thousands of dollars, but there are entry-level models with high-resolution cameras that cost in the range of hundreds of dollars and could work for some commercial uses.
For more drone shopping guidance, check out: “Exploring the World of Drones? Get Started With This Buying Guide.”
Once you have a drone — and know how to use it — you’ll need appropriate clearance from the Federal Aviation Administration, which has authority over U.S. airspace from the ground up, before you can use it for commercial purposes. Check out the FAA’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems” webpage to learn more about government rules and requirements.
Obtain any business licenses required by your state or local government as well, and check into local laws that may prohibit or restrict drone use.
Once you’ve made the government happy, here are eight ideas for drone-related businesses:
1. Aerial surveying
Drone use for aerial surveying is a classic example of a new technology disrupting an existing business model.
Aerial surveying is already used in a number of professions, including map making, agriculture, real estate and construction. These professions require detailed studies of sometimes large tracts of land that are best conducted from above.
While the traditional business model would use helicopters or other aircraft, a drone can do the same job with lower expenses. Plus, drones fly slower and lower than many other types of aircraft, which can sometimes allow drones to pick up more detail than larger aircraft.
2. News gathering
Drones can go places that might be too risky for even the most intrepid reporter, and send back live video of the action. They could get views of fires, traffic accidents or riots, to name just a few things.
What about sports photography? Generally, professional sports teams tightly control and credential the people and organizations they allow to photograph their games. You might want to start out by focusing on smaller-time sports.
High school teams, other youth sports or some college sports could make use of drone photography. You might be able to sell drone photos to the athletes, their parents or the local media.
Starting your own news site might be more than you want to take on. But you can start by reaching out to local newspapers or TV stations that might consider hiring you and your drone on a contractual basis, or buy images on a one-off basis.
Think of a clear day at the beach, where a low-flying aircraft zips by towing a banner about the local crab shack. Now, think about your drone doing the towing instead. Just make sure you don’t fly too low — the salt and sand are bound to be bad news for those little rotors.
Drone-captured videos can also help with marketing. A hotel in a prime location might be able to make use of a sweeping aerial shot of its grounds, for example.
There are miles and miles of pipelines and electrical lines crisscrossing the U.S. that need to be inspected regularly. Once again, a drone can, in some cases, do the job more cheaply than a helicopter or people on foot.
5. Real estate
Real estate sales could benefit from aerial photos, particularly for high-end properties with acreage, multiple buildings or amazing views.
Drones could also be used to help prospective buyers. If they are in the market for a large site, a drone could help identify areas they might want to investigate before getting too deep into the deal.
Drone pilots can keep watch at a fraction of the cost of a team of agents on the ground. One pilot can cover a large area quickly, and a thermal-imaging camera can make a drone still useful after dark. There’s also far less risk of confrontation for a drone operator whose unmanned aircraft spots a ne’er-do-wells than for a guard who spots them.
7. Wedding photographs
You can sell a person almost anything if you tell them it’s for a wedding — and indeed, the business of aerial wedding coverage is growing. Typically, aerial shots are taken in addition to traditional wedding photos, adding a better sense of the setting, particularly for an outdoor or destination wedding.
You might be able to subcontract with a videographer or photographer to give them wide shots and fun images that they can’t get from the ground.
8. Public service
There are other ways to make an important contribution with your drone, such as aiding with search and rescue. In the aftermath of a disaster, a drone can zip in and out of dangerous areas, helping guide crews toward people in peril and away from unsafe structures.
With the explosion of this new technology, there’s definitely lot of fun and money to be had. The sky — and your imagination — is the limit.
Are you intrigued by drones and their money-making prospects? If you have one, how do you use it? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Facebook page.