The Approach Most People Take When Buying Their First Drone
When hobbyists start looking for their first drone and exploring their options they usually come at it from one of two angles. They either decide they want something very cheap to test things out as they just want a drone to fly and have some fun or they decide they want the very best drone out there.
- People wanting a cheap drone often go with something that is toy grade which can actually be a shame as toy grade drones really are, as the name implies, toys and they do not have any of the elegance or finesse of the slightly more expensive hobby grade drones. People who go with a toy drone either convince themselves that drones are a bit of fun but not quite as advanced as they had hoped or get bitten by the bug and end up buying a more expensive drone fairly quickly after getting the hang of the toy.
- People who approach the dronosphere (a phrase we just coined here at blogtarkin!) wanting the best of the best often start looking at some of the features of pro or commercial drones. These drones are usually on a different level when it comes to pricing and even if you have money to burn, due to the complexity of drones and the learning curve people new to the hobby are subjected to it does not make sense to start your journey with a commercial or pro drone. One thing to stress at this time is that hobby drones are actually not that far behind pro drones and just like computers of today are outperformed by the same priced model in 2 months todays drones are much more advanced than they were just a few months ago.
A Quick Overview Of The Drone Industry
At the time of writing (May 2017) the traditional drone industry is actually in a downturn, the consumer demand for drones as toys and by hobbyists has not lived up to expectations, at the start of this year Parrot cut just over one third of its staff as reported by TheVerge as it announced revenue losses.
The industry has hoped for considerable consumer commercial success over the Christmas period but it was not to be. An influx of low prices toy grade drones from the East has really taken over. When casual buyers are looking to pick up a drone as a Christmas present for someone else they are often happy to get something really cheap that will be unwrapped on Christmas morning, played with a few times and probably parked!
DJI is one of the more well-known Chinese drone manufactures and unlike some producers from the East actually have some high quality products. The ever popular Phantom 3 drone is a fairly high quality for the nominal price of $300. Amazingly the Phantom 3 was priced at $1,000 when it launched. This is a classic example of the disruption Eastern manufacturers such as DJI are causing.
Last year 3D Robotics released its Solo Consumer drone with a price point of $1,500 and in reaction to the aggressive price cutting, Chris Anderson, the CEO and Founder of 3D Robotics was quoted as saying “It is no fun watching prices cut by 70% in 9 months”! Given the pricing structure it will come as no surprise that DJI currently controls between 60-70% of the consumer drone market.
One issue with low price budget drones which are still classified as hobby grade is that actually impact drone flying as a hobby. The external motivation people have to keep interest in a hobby after spending $1,500 on a drone far outweighs someone who has just picked one up for $300. At $300 a drone is almost views as disposable, buy it, fly it and lose interest.
DJI have overtaken many Silicon Valley start-ups and already employ a workforce of over 6k people went into business just a few years ago but the aggressive pricing and ability has shaken the industry so much that venture capital is down over 50% within the drone industry, however, it is important to say that this trend is one that has occurred through the technology industry but that makes it no less worrying for the established players.
In an attempt to counter the market downturn and aggressive price cutting drone manufacturers shifted their focus to specialized business drones and commercial units, for example 3D Robotics has stated it will undertake an approach where it will focus on a camera equipped drone with imaging software designed specifically for construction companies. Additionally companies including amazon, Inc and Zipline are focusing on drones for delivery.
So Do You Need a Pro Drone Or Will A Consumer One suffice?
Obviously the answer to this question is that it really depends on the requirements as the gap between what was considered a commercial drone 6 months ago and what is considered a hobby drone today has already closed. We strongly push anyone considering a professional or commercial grade drone to take a look at the options available in the hobby grade market place.
The term hobby grade might put a few people off who want something they decide they want something that can seriously perform, something fast, something with a high grade camera or something that you can view from in real time while exploring a hazardous area. We would like to draw these peoples attention to George Matus.
George Matus was only 11 when he took to the skys with his first drone and was hooked, at 16 he was a serious competitor on the drone racing scene and had made enough connections within the industry to be considered as a test pilot for new products. It was his connections and enthusiasm which gave him the drive to start his own drone company, Teal which currently boasts the worlds fastest production drone.
The Teal drone is available for pre order at around $1,300 and is not classed as a production drone, however, it:
- Can fly at 70MPH (over 85MPH in certain conditions)
- Can flip, perform barrel rolls and every other advanced manoeuvre you have seen the show offs on YouTube performing
- Features a 4k camera, yes it can take videos while doing flips at 85MPH
- Is wind stable and tested with wind conditions up to 40MHP
- Does not require assembly and is ready to fly (RTF)
- Can handle machine learning, autonomous flight, and image recognition
- Small enough to fit in a backpack without disassembly
- Has a fast battery charge time of 30 minutes
- Has a range of 2 miles when used with an RC unit, however, one of the beauties of Teal is that it can be powered by a smartphone app. When driven via the app the range is shorter as it uses WIFI
- Is billed as suitable for gaming, augmented reality, security work, carrying out inspections, ecommerce, agriculture and just about anything else you can think of
- Is driving the industry forward with several technologies and partnerships, for example, they are working with a company called Neurala to integrate a “follow me” technology which uses advanced recognition to identify and follow a person
- Is waterproof enough to fly in rain or snow (but don’t submerge it in water, ever!)
Given the above and also that when you buy a drone the software that comes with it (called firmware) is regularly upgraded to improve the drones abilities you can understand why a hobby grade drone such as Teal can often excel at a job for which you might have initially thought you needed a very high priced pro option.
Consumer Drones Have The Cool Factor
Now we are side tracking a little but consumer drones are definitely the coolest drones, especially amongst nerds, for example…
You will shortly be able to pilot the Millennium Falcon, who didn’t dream of doing that as a kid? Thanks to Propel RC official Star Wars drone range the TIE Fighter ($200) and X-Wing ($300) will accompany the more expensive Millennium Falcon in the range.
While we are discussing the viability of using a consumer drone rather than a going with a pro option it is likely that a TIE fighter could actually be used in real world business application, however, the question would be around the level of perceived professionalism of using this type of drone in an area with clients, personally we think there is nothing to worry about and most clients will love it, you probably will also get some free PR and create a bit of a buzz as the clients is far more likely to talk about your successful project if it featured a TIE Fighter drone than just a run of the mill hobby or pro drone?
One very real danger of using a one of the Starwars drones is you might get shot down, with top speeds of 40MPH the Star Wars Drones have the unique feature (unique at the time of writing) of been able to partake in laser battles while flying, in true Star Wars style up to 24 devices can partake in the same battle in the air at any one time.
Speaking Of Taking Down Drones
Going to war with another 24 Star Wars and shooting them out of the sky with your own toy laser is a fun it does highlight a very real problem which is getting more and more attention.
As drones are been used to perform criminal acts an effective take down strategy is becoming increasingly important. While drones can be used be criminals partaking in “petty crimes”, think the futuristic peeping tom or other such pervert there are also reports of drones been used to smuggle drugs into prisons.
The importance of drone takedown technology becomes even more apparent when considering the recent use of a hobby drone by ISIS to attack and kill two Kurdish fighters showing that the hobby drone can, in the wrong hands, actually be turned into a deadly weapon. In the defence of the manufacturers here many of them are actually using the same geofencing technology that they implement to stop people from flying a drone too close to an airport to stop the same drones from operating in areas at risk of terror or anywhere classed as a battlefield.
While the use of drones in crime and terror is not a positive thing we can say that that:
- Given the impressive list of Teal features above,
- Given ISIS are using consumer hobby drones to carry out attacks
- Consumer drones are been adopted by criminals because of their manoeuvrability drones
A consumer drone, even at a hobby grade is no joke – check out the lower priced hobby options before you dive in and splash out on an expensive commercial or specialist option.