Drone News

Fascinating drone footage taken above Burning Man shows stunning views of prominent installations at the arts and culture festival as thousands of revelers make their way around the desert by foot and bicycles.

Drone footage taken above the Burning Man festival captures stunning  views of prominent installations and the thousands of revelers

The Burning Man Webcast team captured the fascinating footage on Monday at the festival north of Reno, Nevada

Photos from the drone footage show bikers trek around the desert and aerial views of art installations such as the Burning Man Temple (above)

An estimated 70,000 people are said to be in attendance to the eight-day revelry this year

An aerial view of the Temple is pictured at the festival on Monday in Reno

Bikers make their way around the desert at the Burning Man Festival in Reno on August 27, 2018

An estimated 70,000 people are in attendance to the eight-day revelry - which sees burners don wild costumes and leave their cash at home for a week of all-night parties in the temporary city known as the playa, north of Reno, Nevada.

The festival's webcast team shot drone footage early this week, which aired on the Burning Man Live Stream. 

Photos from the drone footage show bikers trek around the desert and aerial views of art installations such as the Burning Man Temple. 

The festival is scheduled to run through the next Monday with celebrity guests such as the likes of Cara Delevingne and Elon Musk among previous years' attendees. 

Burners shared photos on social media this week from the mega-party, showing off nights with lit up bicycles, DJ sets and skimpy outfits. 

Tickets for the event went on sale for $1,200 in January. The only items sold within the festival are coffee and ice, with attendees expected to bring everything else they may need.  

Thousands of festival-goers were forced to put their Burning Man plans on hold Sunday, as the event was delayed on its first day. 

Revelers waited for hours on the entrance road outside of the festival due to sand storms, potholes and construction.

This year's event has kicked up a significant amount of controversy as law enforcement officials threaten to set up traffic stops on the road to the venue and the #MeToo movement calls the appropriateness of the signature 'Orgy Dome' into question. 


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Drones have, as with most technologies, a wide spectrum of usefulness. What one uses to pick fruit, another will use to kill a human being. Companies are increasingly looking to drone technology to solve big and small problems but what does the future hold for this helpful and lethal technology?

Kevin Bolen, Principal, Innovation & Enterprise Solutions, KPMG is paid to know such things and spoke recently about the regulation reviews surrounding drones; "Both the US and UK have similar regulations in place around the flying of drones, which restrict commercial applications. Drones must weigh less than 55 lbs, and be flown within line of sight of the pilot, in daylight, below 400 feet and away from restricted airspace (e.g., airports). A pilot can only control one drone at a time. With so many restrictions, the primary utility now is for video streaming/recording; cameras are lightweight, and drones can easily access areas that are costly or unsafe for humans. [Streaming/recording] can prove helpful for inspection of large assets (e.g., oil rigs or bridges) or conducting an inventory of livestock or other materials."

Despite limitations, drone use is increasing and could add to GDP of most countries (2% for the UK alone per PwC research). When asked, Bolen agrees companies will likely rent more drones rather than buy them. In some cases owning will make more economic sense but the key is to think beyond your needs right now and partner with the right people; "As the demand for drones increases, the scale and efficiency of the companies servicing this demand will grow and they will continue to optimize the performance and range of offerings faster than an individual firm could handle on their own." Bolen also believes that specialized licenses will be commonplace for drone operators as with the trucking industry.

Bolen is bullish on the privacy, security and safety angles posed by drones and believes the most significant risk is the over the collection of data (facial, locational ) and believes firms may find themselves in violation of shifting privacy laws without the proper strategy and insights. More exciting use cases for drones will emerge once regulatory issues subside according to Bolen. From replacing cranes to precision metrics during construction, replacing damaged communication infrastructure autonomously (natural disasters, old-age) to lifting hoses for firefighters, drones offer organizations a new era of utility and creative solutions to old problems.

Practically-speaking, starting with drones is easier than other emerging technologies thanks to low price-points and the simple nature of drones - i.e. it's not like implementing Blockchain. Bolen recommends brainstorming a range of data points you wish to have that you don't have access to today and engage a service provider to run a few experiments to see if the drones are indeed able to source the data. From these tests, Bolen argues that ROI is more straightforward to determine than a lot of emerging technologies; "...you can also determine the time and cost to capture the data, the frequency required, as well as the utility of the date itself to gauge the ROI and assess whether a subscription or ownership model is most economical."

The critical thing about drones is often to change your mindset or perspective. "Not all drones fly,"Bolen says; "Hospitals have used drug delivery drones, and autonomous cars are large drones. I think we need to consider an environment where we are interacting and being served by intelligent drones moving goods alongside us on our roads and sidewalks. In the water, you could envision automated refueling stations that will come to you mid-voyage when summoned."


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The commercial property industry is expansive, totalling $750 billion across real estate, management and insurance. There’s also a certain amount of inherent risk for investors, particularly to property and infrastructure. Physical asset risk, which includes equipment or ageing roofs that need replacing, is one of the top-10 sources of risk in commercial real estate, according to CrowdStreet. Accurate and timely drone-based assessments of property conditions can help reduce investment risk and help property managers, owners and insurers make key decisions about their properties. In order to do so, owners and managers need more modern, effective solutions for property and roof assessments to protect stakeholders and their investments.

It’s time to replace outdated methods of assessment 

The traditional surveying methods of commercial roofs typically involve manual inspections or manned aircraft flyovers, and do not yield the most accurate results or ensure worker safety. Manual inspections take time, and put workers at risk by requiring them to climb tall buildings and walk on roofs to assess conditions. 

Physical risks to a company’s most valuable assets—its employees—will also negatively affect the bottom line. The average cost of a fall from an elevation is roughly $50,000 per incident; in the event that a fall is fatal, the average cost can skyrocket to $910,000 per incident, according to OSHA. Inspections that are completed manually are also prone to human bias and mistakes, which can skew the assessment and leave important details out of the final results. 

When there are information gaps in the results, property owners and managers won’t be able to guarantee a complete, accurate analysis, eroding the confidence needed to make important decisions. Because they’re so costly in terms of time and risk, manual inspections are often infrequent. This drastically cuts down on opportunities for preventative maintenance and exacerbates minor issues over time before they’re finally caught and addressed. Unmanned aerial systems (UAS), or drones, offer a much better solution for roof assessments for a number of reasons. 

Here are five benefits of using drone technology. 

1. Unbiased images of the entire surface Drones deliver images of a complete surface to provide clear, comprehensive data. They are agile, and can access hard-to-reach areas on rooftops that just can’t be assessed by manual inspections or even manned flights. Newer-generation drones can provide detailed aerial imagery in high definition. With the entire roofing surface in full view, a drone allows for an accurate analysis of conditions, free of missing data or human error, so that well-informed decisions can be made. 

2. Artificial intelligence and machine learning Aerial imagery can also be paired with artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to produce deeper insights. AI and ML are being applied to industrial drone technology to develop end-to-end solutions that will streamline property assessments and reduce costs. By utilizing AI, tasks that have traditionally been done manually can instead be automated for a more efficient process. This leaves human beings to focus on more strategic tasks. 

3. Enhanced worker safety By deploying drones, there’s no longer a need to endanger workers by having them climb tall buildings and maneuver across roofs with dangerous slopes. Drones can simply fly over a building for a full assessment of conditions, leaving workers safely out of danger. This greatly reduces the risk of incidents due to falls, and also makes for a much better workplace environment for employees. 

4. Thermal inspection capabilities With thermal inspection capabilities offered in newer-generation drones, assessments can now yield even greater insights. Thermal inspection immediately identifies damages in areas that can’t be seen or accessed via manual inspections, or even through a direct aerial view. For example, this type of technology is capable of flagging water pooling underneath a flat roof, issues with HVAC equipment and damage to a building’s infrastructure. Drones with these capabilities can identify issues before they compound and have a more detrimental impact. It enables proactive, preventative maintenance in problem areas. 

5. Ease-of-use Autonomous drones are incredibly easy to fly, with very little training required to handle properly. They require no joysticks to maneuver; instead, they fly a pre-identified flight path to canvas the property from above. Drone flights are also much faster than manual inspections, providing inspectors and stakeholders with the results and analysis needed to make important decisions quickly. Because they’re so easy to use, and take little manpower to complete, drone flights can be scheduled as frequently as needed to gather data on roof conditions. By deploying drones for their property assessments, owners, managers and all stakeholders can gather a much more accurate and complete picture of roof conditions. 

The benefits of drones over traditional property assessments such as manual inspections are almost immeasurable. Drones enable deeper insights and analysis, more frequent surveys and a safer working environment. The thermal inspection capabilities on a newer-generation UAS provide an increased opportunity for preventative maintenance and significant cost savings.


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Drone photography has been one of the biggest advancements in aerial photography and cinematography. Drones began making a huge impact on filmmaking in the early 2000s, but vast advancements in aerial and camera technology have dramatically increased the use of and demand for aerial footage in nearly every industry focused on digital content.

The construction industry has begun implementing drones on construction sites as a way to get a birdseye view of a project, capture the finished building from a unique perspective and even be used in the actual construction of the building itself. But when it comes to architectural photography and cinematography, we are just beginning to scratch the surface.

Finding the Right Drone

Globally, drone sales grew an estimated 60% in 2016 to over 2.2 million, with revenue growth eclipsing $4.5 billion, according to research firm Gartner. Dà-Jiāng Innovations (DJI) has emerged as the industry leader, representing 36% of the $500-$1,000 market in 2016, 66% of the $1,000-$2,000 market and 67% of the $2,000-$4,000 market.

Architect and author of the Architect + Entrepreneur book series Eric Reinholdt released a video in 2017 detailing the results of his research into the best drone for architects and designers. At the time of his video, he concluded that the DJI Mavic Pro was the winner. With a 7 km flight time, 4K 12 MP camera and 3-axis gimbal, the Mavic Pro is also small enough to fit into a small backpack after the foldable wings are tucked back into the body of the drone. Also coming in at a (current) price of $1,398 for the Fly More Combo (which includes an extra battery pack, case, DJI remote, extra blades, and much more) it can be seen as an affordable business investment.

DJI Mavic Pro. Image© <a href='https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mavic_(UAV)#/media/File:DJI_Mavic_Pro_(32613533582).jpg'>Wikimedia user Leigh Miller</a> licensed under <a href='https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/'>CC BY-SA 2.0</a>

But since Reinholdt's video, DJI has released the Mavic Air. A more compact drone with the same specs as the Mavic Pro at an even more affordable price ($799, or $999 for the Fly More Combo), the Mavic Air is a professional-grade aircraft that fits in your pocket. Also sporting a 3-axis gimbal and 4K camera, the Mavic Air adds the capability to capture 360-panoramic footage with its 32 MP 360 camera.

DJI has a wide variety of drones across a range of prices, and as with most purchases of this price range, it is important to do your research.

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DJI Mavic Air

Use Responsibly

Before you get started with your initial flight, it is also important to research your local jurisdiction's rules and regulations on unmanned aircraft. It may seem a bit over-the-top, but the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has put in place safety guidelines to help you get flying as quickly as possible, and ensure that your drone isn't confiscated after its first flight. You can reference this article for more information on the legalities of getting started with your new drone.


Aerial photography is definitely the most utilized aspect of drone use in architecture. Site photos are useful in predesign, construction photos can help keep an eye on the process and final images capture the essence of the design at a different level (literally). Here are a few things to keep in mind when using your drone for aerial photography in architecture.

When and where you are flying matters. Flying a drone in a dense urban area is a lot more dangerous than on a rural mountainside. Flying at night versus during the day is a great way to get those great nighttime cityscape shots, but as you might imagine, it is a bit tricky to fly a drone when you can't really see it. Most drones do have head and tail lights to aid in night flight, but relying on seeing the lights from over a mile away maybe isn't the best idea.

Most high-end drones come with some sort of gimbal technology for stabilization. A 3-axis gimbal will provide you more stabilization as it stabilizes over three axis (yaw, pitch and roll), while a 2-axis gimbal only stabilizes the pitch and roll. You might not think this makes much of a difference in photography, but compare it to taking a picture freehand versus using a tripod. Obviously, the tripod will eliminate camera shake and help you get a cleaner, crisper image. The same goes for a 3-axis gimbal.

Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind when it comes to drone photography is perspective. It's easy to get carried away when operating a drone, but you must not forget to analyze your drone shot just as you would with a handheld camera. A drone is simply another tool to utilize in the creative process. It just happens to also be one of the most fun.


The cinematic component of aerial photography is an often neglected aspect of drone usage that has the potential to make a major impact. Aerial cinematography is also perhaps one of the more daunting aspects of using a drone. In part because (much like a photo) a video very rarely ever comes out perfect directly from the camera. Even with the incredibly high-resolution images you can get from a quality drone, there is still a bit of post-production work needed to make sure the information shown looks the way it needs to. With video, that post-production workflow is not one that is known to most in the architecture industry. But therein lies the potential.

Drones offer the opportunity to experience buildings in a way that isn't humanly possible without them. Video also has the power to enhance the experience of the design at multiple scales. Vast flyovers provide an expansive view of a building in its context. Flyarounds can provide an intimate examination of details at levels out of reach at a human scale. Flythroughs can provide a complete experience through a building by navigating between spaces.

With the correct drone, a sufficient amount of flight experience and a bit of creativity, You can begin experimenting with aerial cinematography to help elevate your design work. Check out this video from YouTuber Casey Neistat to see a great example of how to use a drone to capture spatial experiences from a unique perspective.

Keep Learning / Get Inspired

It should come as no shock that operating a drone is not easy. In order to get outstanding, high-quality content out of your drone, it will require time and effort on your part. But just like with any BIM software, there is an abundance of resources out there to help you get started with flight technique, post-production and inspiration. YouTube is perhaps the best place to look, as it is the world's second largest search engine (and it is owned by the first largest, Google) and is the world's go-to for "how to's".


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Wendling Quarries' workers will no longer hike up frozen, snow-covered piles to survey its stockpiles and will instead rely on a fleet of drones and AI for inventory management.

Wendling, with operations in 13 counties throughout Eastern Iowa and Western Illinois, tapped Kespry to carry out inventory estimates at its operations. The drone-based aerial intelligence provider announced the deal last week. 

"I hated the whole process of inventory," said Tony Manatt, owner and president, Wendling Quarries, in a Kespry news release.

"It was always inaccurate, and it was always an issue to put together a team that would take care of inventory. In a couple days of surveying, we would need to measure anywhere from 100-200 irregular, frozen, snow-covered piles.

Wendling says the service is more efficient, safer and accurate. The quarry operator can also carry out more frequent surveys.

"Before, when we were using just a stick, and we had to climb to the top of those piles, we wouldn't do our inventories nearly as often," said Dylan Daehn, engineer, Wendling Quarries, in a Kespry news release.

"Now, we can go out and fly all our quarries once a month or once every other month. We used to only maybe do it once a year. I can survey a 100-plus acre site in less than an hour, and I've got all this data that is accurate down to a couple centimeters."


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1. Field checks

Drones are helpful for everyday crop checks, but can also be helpful in annual checks to see if what you have done to improve drainage or whatever else, is working.

2. Annual progress

If you fly over your field on the same day each year you can see improvements or notice that nothing has changed.

3. Pest control

Thiele also uses the drone to check his pest traps. He traps racoons and groundhogs that destroy their crops and are a nuisance to the farm. Using the drone to check the traps saves him steps and time by first discovering which traps need attention.

4. Spot spraying

DJI makes a drone about two or three times larger than a typical drone with eight rotors that can be used to spot spray. It lifts a tank high into the air, and the operator can view the field from the air and spray where it is needed, saving time and money with precision spraying.


Normalized difference vegetation index is a numerical indicator that uses the visible and near-infrared bands of the electromagnetic spectrum.

This technology has been adopted to analyze remote sensing measurements and assess whether the target being observed contains live green vegetation or not. With NVDI, you can determine crop damage, stress, drought, wind or hail damage.

6. Education

Farmers are lifelong learners, hosting many field days and discussions to share and learn from one another, Thiele, like others, has used his drone to share farming practices with others.

He has taken drone footage at farming events so farmers could see what was happening in the field live on a screen. He also focuses on agricultural advocacy, taking videos of the everyday happenings at his farm and creating a voice-over to educate consumers.


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South African anti-poaching units have a new weapon to use against rhino poachers, all thanks to Raglan-based drone company, Aeronavics.

Recent studies estimate roughly 18,000 southern white rhino and 5500 black rhino are left in Africa but the numbers are dropping.

Rhino horn is trafficked by poachers into Asian countries where they are believed to have healing powers, or they are simply poached as a status symbol.

Aeronavics was approached by Sarah Jones from the Tusk and Horn Wildlife Trust about creating and providing a drone that could help anti-poaching units.

Last year Jones, also from Raglan, visited South Africa and went into the field with Dr William Fowlds, a world-renowned rhino conservationist.

Fowlds explained drones could be highly useful in conservation work if they could provide night-vision support to security teams on the ground.

The drone prototype used by anti-poaching units. Photo / Supplied

Jones sought the help of Aeronavics after returning home, believing they had the technology to create a drone to assist anti-poaching units.

"When Sarah contacted us we instantly wanted to help," Linda Bulk, director of Aeronavics said.

"Both Rob (Brouwer, co-director) and I were deeply moved by her relay of what was going on in South Africa".

Aeronavics spent the past 18 months developing a number of prototypes to help protect rhinos, deciding on a quad rotor model with night vision.

It can fly for around 45 minutes, withstand high levels of wind and comfortably fly several kilometres without losing contact with the radio and video controls.

Jones' trust and the Tanglewood Foundation helped pay expenses like travel, and Fowlds' African Rhino Conservation Collaboration funded the thermal camera.

Bulk and flight engineer Hadley Boks-Wilson flew to South Africa on July 30 to deliver the prototype to Fowlds.

Night vision images from the drone in use. Photo / Supplied

On arrival, they were shown how rhinos are dehorned as a preventative measure against poaching.

"It was heart-wrenching to see this magnificent creature lying helplessly on the ground, sedated but aware, as his pride and glory, his defining feature, was sawn of his head.

"You can just imagine their terror as the penetrating noise of a chainsaw is cutting into their horn just inches away from their face, followed by a grinder to remove the remainder," Bulk said.

"But at least this doesn't actually hurt them physically, unlike the brutal force poachers apply as they savage their faces with axes."

Bulk and Boks-Wilson spent a week training the anti-poaching unit of Amakhala at the Fowlds family game reserve.

A chainsaw is used to dehorn rhinos as a precaution against poachers. Photo / Supplied

A chainsaw is used to dehorn rhinos as a precaution against poachers. 

Since returning to New Zealand last week, Bulk has been investigating other ways to help protect rhinos and other endangered species.

"We now have to strategise how to make it feasible to deploy this technology on a wide scale."


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There are a couple of different ways to use drones for light-painting. Some people will attach LumeCubes to their drone and paint an environment with them or will fly a drone around the sky or an object and have the drones lights creating images in the sky. 

However, there is another way to use them that isn’t widely used yet: using the drone’s camera to capture light-painting from above.

Drones are becoming more and more popular these days and it’s not too expensive to buy one and play with its possibilities.

In order to do top-down drone light-painting, I recommend having an assistant to get the drone in the right spot and monitor your position to make sure you are centered and focused as well as you can be. Or you can focus it yourself and just have them press the shutter if you’re more comfortable.

Let’s talk about the pros and cons of shooting with the DJI Mavic Pro:


  • Tripod mode (this helps keeps the drone as steady as it can be) it also helps to make minute corrections to better align your picture
  • Unique Perspective
  • Creates new shapes and possibilities


  • Need an assistant
  • Most drones don’t have a controllable aperture
  • Shutter can only stay open for 8 seconds max
  • Pictures aren’t as clear as they could be because of drone movement
  • If there is any wind at all it will affect your picture so you will only get it so clear

So how do you do this type of photography? I’ll do my best to break it down.

Find a spot that it’s ok to fly drones. Fly this drone up to 30-50 ft.

Have your model (if you want to use one) lie on the ground and center the drone on top of him or her about 30-50 feet up in the air.

Focus on your subject or the ground by zooming in with your drone and doing your best to get a clear shot.

Now take your tube or blades or whatever you want to use and get ready to light-paint. Your drone operator will have to count down for you when you need to start painting as you only have 8 seconds, if not less!

I personally like to use models for this type of light painting but you totally don’t have to if you just want fun shapes. I find models just enhance the picture and provide interest!

When making shapes you have to think a little differently about how they are created as you are using a different plane of perspective. Don’t be afraid to use your space! Go up and down and all around and see what you can do. I find tubes or tube-like objects work best (at least so far) so that’s what I would recommend.

The most important thing with this style is that the sky is (literally?) the limit! Or maybe your battery life. There is so much you can do with perspective it’s bonkers, so go wild!


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Creating a common operating picture

When the expected attendance of an event is 1.6 times larger than the local population, managing security requires multi-agency collaboration.

That was the situation facing the Michigan State Police before the annual Michigan Mud Jam. The Police produced a detailed and up-to-date orthomosaic which the multi-agency team used as the basis of the event security planning process.

The Michigan Mud Jam

The Michigan Mud Jam is held annually at the Iosco County Fairgrounds in Hale, Michigan. It is a 4-day event with a 10 hectare (24.7 acres) mud pit for motorized vehicles of all shapes and sizes.

The event has drawn over 40,000 patrons in the past – to put this number in perspective, the population of the entire county is 25,000.

Due to its scale, and the potential hazards, a multi-agency team manages the Mud Jam security. The Michigan State Police work together with local and private law enforcement counterparts to prepare for the event.

Before the event begins, the aviation unit of MSP collects imagery with a drone and hands the data off to the Emergency Management and Homeland Security Division operations management section for processing. On the ground, during the event, MSP provides radio communication support from a command vehicle.

Efficient multi-agency collaboration requires a shared understanding of the event geography. Operational maps are communication tools that serve that purpose. An up-to-date base-map of the grounds — with a spatial resolution fine enough to identify objects as small as 10cm — is essential when planning event security.

Timely base-maps are a critical factor in event planning because temporary landmarks such as tents and grandstands are on the site for only a week — or less — before the event begins. Drone-mapping enables the security team to generate maps which capture temporal information that other data sources such as Google Earth or statewide image archives do not contain, and at a much lower cost than mapping from an aircraft.

Generating an up-to-date operational map

The MSP brought in their state-of-the-art expertise and equipment to generate up-to-date drone-based operational maps.

Due to the Visual Line of Sight (VLOS) regulations and the relatively large size of the Iosco County Fairgrounds, two flights were required to capture all 1km2 (247 acres) of the area.

In both flights, the MSP flew their Aeryon Skyranger drone equipped with an HDZoom 30 payload — a ruggedized camera with a 20MP sensor mounted on a 3 axis gimbal— at 120m (393.7ft) above the ground — and captured 405 images.

Processing the images with Pix4Dmapper

After collecting the data the next step was to transform the images into a digital model.

The MSP used Pix4Dmapper on a desktop computer with the following technical specifications to generate their orthomosaic:

CPU: Intel(R) Xeon(R) CPU E5-2699 v3 @ 2.30GHz

RAM: 128GB

GPU: NVIDIA Quadro K2200 (Driver:

The total processing time was less than two and a half hours. The result was an orthomosaic with a spatial resolution or Ground Sampling Distance (GSD) of 3.2cm per pixel.


This orthomosaic served as a base-layer to overlay detailed annotations and define specific zones for reference. The resulting map served as a common operating picture.

The drone program at MSP

Michigan State Police‘s mission is to provide the highest quality law enforcement and public safety services throughout the state.

Their vision is being a leader and partner in law enforcement and public safety, with a highly trained, full-service state police force that is mobile, flexible, and responsive to emerging public safety needs across Michigan. As part of this vision, the MSP launched their drone program to support law enforcement in 2013.

Since the launch of the program, the MSP has been using the Pix4Dmapper photogrammetry software to create maps and 3D models to support a variety of types of law enforcement and disaster response missions, including collision and crime scenes, arson investigations, event planning, and natural disaster response.

“The MSP schedules its aviation assets and can, therefore, collect data close to the start of an event. The Pix4Dmapper photogrammetry software helped us produce a finely resolved and spatially accurate orthomosaic within days of an actual event.” Walter Chomentowski, Geospatial Intelligence Specialist, MSP

Drone mapping allows security teams to create up-to-date digital maps and 3D models with a high spatial and temporal accuracy. These tools enable security managers to assess vulnerabilities, identify risks and critical spots, assign agent positions, model scenarios, and draw contingency plans accordingly. Each agent needs to know the site in detail – and thanks to drone mapping, they can work from a common operational picture.


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Despite what some call an oversaturated market, these freelance drone pilots say they’re making more than $100,000 a year

Looking for a gig that pays six figures? Consider being a freelance drone pilot.

It worked for Andrew Dean, who had been working as a waiter after leaving his job with the U.S. Air Force. Four years ago, he invested in drone equipment, as well as a thermography certification course to boost his skill set. This year, the Colorado-based drone pilot is on track to break $200,000.

His story is not unusual.

“You can earn a couple hundred bucks for a package of real estate photos,” said Denver-based drone pilot Vic Moss, who is also a co-owner of the online community Drone U. “Flying drones part-time can earn you $500 or $600 a week, and by flying full-time, you can make six-figures annually. Flying for big name companies can net you $3,500 a day.”

A day in the life of a drone pilot

For a drone pilot, no day is ever the same. Most drone pilots work as freelance contractors, flying drones for major companies and small businesses. They’re using drones for everything from gathering thermal images of the ground to producing 3-D models of buildings.

Tampa, Fla.-based drone pilot PJ Cook’s work includes using a drone to document apartment construction near the University of South Florida, as well as using a drone to scan the sites of Costco Wholesale Corp.’s COST, +0.74% new warehouses.

Willingness to travel is an important job requirement. Moss just returned from New Mexico after finishing a job for a fire investigator who wanted aerial images to find ignition points. He’s travelled as far as Guatemala.

For many drone pilots, flying drones augments their existing work. Moss has been a Denver-based professional photographer since 1988, but has recently added drone photography to his portfolio, which he says now makes up about 20% of his total work.

How much money do you make as a drone pilot?

Dean is on track to make $200,000 this year through his drone business. But it wasn’t always that easy.

“My first year, I ran at a loss,” Dean said. That first year also came with his biggest investment, including buying gear, a laptop, thermal cameras and a thermography certification.

His second year, he made $30,000 through primarily real estate and construction jobs. In his third year, a massive storm hit, which brought significantly more business, netting him about $80,000.

Although Dean is on track to make $200,000 this year, he did have huge startup costs. Beyond traditional expenses like marketing, travel, supplies and a computer, there’s the drone equipment, as well as certifications and licensing expenses.

Dean said that he lands most of his highest-paying gigs because of his thermography certification. Each level of thermography certification costs $2,000, and there are three levels (Dean has a level three certification).

Drones range from about $1,000 to more than $10,000. Flight planning startup Kittyhawk says the most commonly used drone among its users is the DJI Mavic Pro, which costs less than $1,000. For pilots who want to carry a thermal camera, the most popular drone is the DJI Inspire 2, which costs about $3,000. An accompanying thermal camera, such as Flir’s FLIR, +1.91%  Zenmuse XT2, can cost $10,000.

While DJI has an estimated 70% to 80% share of the market, other drones on the market range from GoPro Inc.’s GPRO, +3.39%  Karma drone on the low-end — primarily being used for traditional visual images like real estate photography — to the high-end, $40,000 Intel Corp. INTC, -1.27%  Falcon 8, which is used for surveys and inspections.

Drones also require accessories, like memory cards, car chargers and cases. Moss says he carries 13 batteries with him. (Each DJI Phantom battery costs $149).

Then there is insurance. Moss’s insurance policy costs him $2,700 a year. He recommends pilots have business liability, as well as hull coverage, which covers physical property damage. Some major insurance companies like State Farm will cover drones, which could be a good idea for full-time drone pilots. For people flying occasionally, companies like DroneInsurance.com or Verifly offer on-demand drone insurance, where pilots pay for shorter periods of coverage — some as little as by the hour.

Related: Only one drone pilot has ever been busted for flying without a license — and he got a warning

The Federal Aviation Administration also requires that commercial drone pilots have a license, which costs $150 and must be renewed every two years.

Airbnb for drone pilots

Where does the business come from? Some companies like Washington, D.C.-based Measure market themselves as drone service providers and hire full-time pilots on staff.

There’s also a growing list of companies that function as an “Uber for drone pilots.” Sites like DroneBase allow customers in need of aerial imagery to place an order for the images they want, and one of DroneBase’s contracted pilots will fly the drone and send them the images.

DroneBase’s customers include real-estate agents or developers who want aerial images of their properties and insurance companies that want aerial images to help process claims for cases such as roof damage. DroneBase’s packages range from $99 to $449 per job, and the contracted pilots get a cut.

“DroneBase jobs will kick out $70 for an inspection that takes me 15 minutes,” said Denver-based Dean. “I can do three of those in an hour.”

But most pilots say that DroneBase doesn’t generate enough business for them to work full-time as a contractor for the company. Most pilots say about 20% of their total business comes from DroneBase, while the other 80% comes from personal clients they’ve generated through networking, SEO or word-of-mouth.

Most of a drone pilot’s business is weather-contingent, which means extreme cold and wind can shut down business, while the aftermath of a storm could mean an influx of business. Dean specializes in using drones for post-storm damage inspections, which means he only gets that kind of rapid business in the wake of a storm.

But storms present even more challenges for the pilot.

“A lot of folks think you make a fortune during hurricanes,” Cook said. “We were hit pretty good with the last hurricane in Florida, but you need power to recharge your drones, and you need to be able to commute to the job site. I had people request filming but I couldn’t get there because the roads were closed.”

Drone lessons as a side hustle

Another avenue for making money in drones? Airbnb. Since the vacation rental company launched its “Experiences” service in 2016, drone pilots have been offering drone lessons to Airbnb customers.

Airbnb Experiences is a concept where, instead of renting out their home, hosts offer up their services — whether it’s providing a cooking class, surf school — or yes, drone lessons. Airbnb takes a 20% cut of whatever the cost of the Airbnb Experience is, but hosts set their own price.

New York drone pilot Elena Buenrostro charges $100 for a one-hour drone lesson, so she makes $80 per student. In peak tourist season, she says she will average around 10 students a week. But like other drone piloting-jobs, it’s also weather-dependent. Few students want to book the activity when it’s cold, and she can’t teach if it’s snowing or raining.

Elena Buenrostro offers drone flying lessons via home-sharing startup Airbnb

Her class teaches students how to set up their drone if they already have one, as well as photography basics.

For remote students, she also offers drone lessons as a contractor through photo retailer Polar Pro. The photography gear site last month expanded its offering from selling photo gear to launching PolarPro EDU, a series of live, one-on-one educational classes. Buenrostro, who is also the founder of Women Who Drone, teaches the Intro to Drone Cinematography classes, which cost students $149.99 for an hour long session.

An oversaturated market of drone pilots?

As drones become more easily accessible, some pilots say the market is getting more saturated.

But it is also turning into a blessing in disguise for Buenrostro. While she gets offered fewer gigs shooting videos, more people are buying drones, which means more people needing lessons.

“I’m heading in the direction of teaching full-time,” Buenrostro said.

And as drones become ubiquitous, more companies are learning how they can benefit from aerial data. Farmers are increasingly seeking aerial data to optimize water or pesticide usage, biologists are using them to track animal patterns, and construction companies want aerial images to survey their progress.

For Dean, he’s only seen business grow, not shrink.

The secret to making 6-figures in drones? Specialize

Drone pilots say the market for easy drone piloting jobs, like taking simple real estate photos, is the most crowded. But the pilots who are making six-figures say the trick is to specialize.

Moss said the people who are making the most money have GIS and mapping experience. Dean has cornered the market in aerial thermal imagery for commercial restorations.

“It’s a niche inside of a niche,” Dean said. “There are only about three to four of us in the entire U.S. who have that level of expertise, so there’s no competition.”

Dean’s latest job includes doing an entire inspection of the Las Vegas Convention Center, which is undergoing a massive $1.4 billion renovation. That job is expected to net him $200,000.

But the truth is, the job title of drone pilot isn’t all fun and games.

“People think you just go fly a toy all day,” Dean said, but the Vegas job will take him 14 days to fly around the entire building, and after that, it will take him four months to generate a report.

“It’s not just flying around and taking pictures,” he said. “People see me flying a drone around the Las Vegas Strip and think I have the coolest job ever, but they don’t see that I’ve been working on the accompanying report since November.”

Add billing, invoicing and marketing, and actually flying the drone only makes up a small percentage of the day, Moss added.

Moss said that while more people are trying to make it as a drone pilot, there’s plenty of room to be successful.

“It’s similar to photography, when the digital revolution came and everybody could buy a digital camera and call themselves a photographer,” he said. “That’s what is going on with drones right now.”

“It’s just the nature of free markets,” Moss said. “The market will get saturated, and then it will go back down. But don’t compete with price. Compete with quality.”


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