Commercial Drones: Industries that Use Drones, Deliverables, and Our List of the Top Models on the Market

 

Commercial drones are being used across various industries to help companies save money, improve safety, and enhance the efficiency of their operations. Read this guide to learn more about commercial drones, and to see our list of the top seven commercial drones on the market.

A commercial drone is any drone used for work.

This means that commercial drones include both those drones that are made for specific types of jobs, like Flyability’s Elios 2 made for flying in confined spaces, and drones that are made for general consumers but can also be used in professional settings, like DJI’s new Mavic Air 2.

Before we go any further, we want to share our list of the top seven commercial drones on the market right now, along with the primary use cases for each one.

Here is our list of the top seven commercial drones on the market:

[Check out the section below on the top commercial drones for sale to learn more about each of these drones.]

As the drone industry has grown over the last several years, the use of drones for work has grown exponentially.

In this article, we’re going to look at all the different ways that drones are being used for work, regulatory requirements for the use of commercial drones, and some of the top commercial drones on the market.

Here is a table of contents to help you find exactly what you’re looking for in this article:

The Commercial Use of Drones

As the drone industry has developed, commercial drones have been used more and more in various industries.

To help you navigate the ways that drones are being used for work, we’ve broken this section of the article up into three different parts:

Commercial Drone Data

What kind of data do drones collect?

Drones present a powerful tool for collecting data remotely. 

In inspection scenarios, using a drone to collect data instead of a person can make a big impact on safety since it reduces the exposure of personnel to potentially dangerous scenarios, such as climbing a cell tower or walking along scaffolding inside a giant tank to collect visual data.

People also use drones to collect data for things like surveying, mapping, or even to help investigators find human remains—we’ll cover all the different industries that are using drones a little farther on in this section.

commercial-drones-data

Thermal data shown in Flyability's Inspector software

Here are the primary types of data currently collected by drone:

  • Visual data. This is by far the most common type of data a drone is used to collect. By flying over an area or object of interest, a drone can be used to help see things that might not be otherwise visible, and collect a record of what is seen.
  • Thermal data. After visual data, thermal data is one of the most common types of data industries collected by drone. Aerial thermal data can help firefighters determine where to focus their efforts during an active fire, or help inspectors identify potential problem areas in a solar array.
  • LiDAR data. A LiDAR sensor illuminates a target with a laser light and then measures the reflection to create data points that can be used to map the area. Aerial LiDAR can be used to help companies in various industries to create 3D maps of an area, which can be used for project planning or progress tracking. Since LiDAR can penetrate tree cover and even earth to reveal structures hidden underground, it has also been used by archaeologists to help them discover new sites of interest for excavation.
  • Multispectral data. Multispectral data is collected by sensors that measure reflected energy within several specific sections (or bands) of the electromagnetic spectrum. Aerial multispectral data can be used in agriculture and conservation to monitor plant and tree health, and it’s also being used by law enforcement to help find human remains.
  • Hyperspectral data. Hyperspectral sensors measure energy in narrower and more numerous bands than multispectral sensors. Aerial hyperspectral data can be used in agriculture for monitoring the health of crops, and in security and defense for detecting the presence of those who shouldn’t be in a given area.

Please note that this list is not meant to be exhaustive, but only to present the most common types of data collected by drone right now. 

The reality is that drones can collect whatever data we want, so long as a drone-compatible sensor (i.e., a sensor that can be attached to a drone) exists for its collection. 

As drone technology continues to advance, we’ll continue to see more and more sensors developed for drones to be used for new types of data collection, such as radiation for nuclear power plant inspections or thickness measuring for inspecting industrial assets.

Commercial Drone Deliverables

What kinds of deliverables are drones being used to create?

Now that we’ve covered some of the main types of data that drones can capture, we need to address what is done with that data.

The truth is that simply sharing a folder that contains a huge amount of data will not be very helpful for most people. What they need is for that raw data to be converted into actual deliverables, which can then be used for a variety of purposes.

Here are some of the most common deliverables created from drone data:

  • Photos and videos. One of the most common deliverables for commercial drone work are stills and videos. These might be for professional photography/videography purposes (such as weddings or family photo shoots), aerial shots of real estate to help market it, or even high-end cinematography for work in filmmaking.
  • 3D maps. Across various industries 3D maps are becoming a common deliverable for drone data, helping people to better visualize the spaces in which they’re working. 
  • Orthomosaics. An orthomosaic is a photo representation of an area created by stitching together several photos. Orthomosaics are used in construction to visualize building sites, in public safety to record the details of places where large groups of people commonly gather, or in civil engineering to track the progress of a large project, such as restoring part of a beach. 
  • Actionable reports. In some industries a deliverable produced from drone data could include a report generated by industry-specific software. For example, Pix4D’s agriculture-specific software Pix4Dfields allows users to produce agricultural indices to better understand plant stress as well as aggregating vegetation index maps into zones. 

commercial-drones-3d-map

A 3D map of an FCC's riser created from data collected by the Elios 2

Top Industries Using Drones for Work

What industries and sectors use drones in their work?

Here are some of the top industries and sectors using drones for commercial purposes today, along with the ways that they’re using them:

  • Agriculture. Farmers use drones to collect data on their crops and then use that data to improve their yields.
  • Chemicals. Drones are being used in the chemicals industry to improve indoor inspections by taking the place of inspectors in collecting visual data inside large assets used in chemical processes.
  • Conservation. One of the main ways drones are helping conservation efforts is by providing detailed vegetation maps to help track forestry work and water mapping to better understand how water moves through an area. Drones have also been invented that shoot out seeds from the air, which could help reforestation efforts in places that have been clear cut.
  • Construction. Mapping and surveying construction sites can be quite slow when done by walking a site. Drones help speed up these efforts, allowing construction companies to provide real-time maps of progress and surveys that can help them both plan for projects and improve projects that are underway, leading to significant savings.
  • Delivery. Consumer drone delivery has yet to be rolled out at a large scale anywhere in the world but it does present a major contribution for commercial drones. Medical drone delivery is currently taking place throughout the world in countries as far-reaching as Rwanda, the U.S., and Switzerland (where Flyability is headquartered).
  • Filmmaking. For years now, high-end drones have been used to capture aerial shots for movies instead of helicopters, which are more expensive and cumbersome to work with.
  • Mining. Mining companies are turning to tough indoor drones like the Elios 2 to help them create maps of their mines. These maps lead to improved safety and can also help companies locate ore that might otherwise be lost.
  • Insurance. Insurance companies are always processing claims, especially after large storms. Drones are helping insurance companies process claims on roof damage much more quickly by allowing adjusters to collect visual data from the sky instead of by climbing up ladders. Insurance companies are also using drones for accident reconstruction, helping them to piece together how an auto collision took place so that they can verify the validity of auto-related insurance claims.
  • Oil & Gas. Indoor drones like the Elios 2 are making a big impact in Oil & Gas by providing inspectors with a tool for collecting high-quality visual data inside assets crucial to the oil refining process, such as tanks and FCC units. and risers.
  • Power Generation. In power generation, indoor drones are also helping inspectors to access areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. Drones can also help keep inspectors from the harm presented by radiation at nuclear power plants by taking the place of inspectors in collecting visual data of key assets like boilers.
  • Public Safety. Law enforcement, fire departments, and search and rescue have all adopted drones over the last several years. Police use drones to help them get better situational awareness and to map densely populated areas, firefighters use drones to collect thermal data that can pinpoint where they should focus their efforts, and search and rescue personnel are using both thermal and visual sensors on drones to help find people missing in the wilderness.
  • Sewer Maintenance. Indoor drones have been helping inspectors enter city sewer systems to collect visual data that can be used to identify the source of a problem or to evaluate the condition of the infrastructure as part of the regular maintenance process. Learn more about sewer inspection in our in-depth guide.

commercial-drones-sewer-inspection

An inspector conducts a visual inspection of a sewer by drone

Just as our list of the types of drone data being collected today is not exhaustive, this list of industries that use drones is also not meant to be a full list of every single way commercial drones are being used today.

As drone technology develops, people continue to find new ways to use drones to save money, improve safety, and increase efficiency in their operations.

For example, we recently learned that crime investigators have been using drones equipped with multispectral imaging to help find human remains, and that scientists are experimenting with using drones to release sterile mosquitoes in an effort to control mosquito-borne disease.

Commercial Drone Regulations—the FOCA, the FAA & Commercial Drone Rules

An article on commercial drones would not be complete without a section on the regulations that govern the use of drones for work.

commercial-drones-regulations

At this point, almost every country in the world has developed regulations regarding the use of drones. 

Most of these regulations can be divided into two categories: work (i.e., commercial drone operations) and fun (i.e., hobbyist drone operations).

If you plan to fly your drone for fun, you must follow a certain set of rules, and if you plan to fly your drone for work, you must fly a different set of rules (in some instances, flying for governmental purposes is a third category, which may also have a separate set of rules).

The rules for operating a drone for work vary from country to country, but often include these basic requirements:

  • That the drone pilot hold some kind of certificate or license authenticating their ability to fly a drone commercially.
  • That the drone pilot follow certain guidelines while operating their drone, such as keeping it within the operator’s visual line of sight or not flying over crowds.
  • That the drone pilot register their drone with the government.
  • That the drone pilot hold insurance on each drone they operate.

In the U.S., the FAA’s Part 107 rules establish the guidelines for using drones in commercial settings. These rules require commercial drone pilots to hold a certificate for operations and to follow certain guidelines, such as not flying at night, Beyond the Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS), or in controlled airspace without prior authorization. You can learn more about the FAA’s rules for commercial drone operations here.

In Switzerland, drone pilots must abide by the rules and provisions established by the Federal Office for Civil Aviation (FOCA), such as not flying over crowds or within five kilometers of an airport or heliport. You can learn more about the FOCA’s rules for commercial drone operations here.

For a master list of all the drone laws in the world, visit this page on the UAV Coach website.

The Top 7 Commercial Drones for Sale

Now that we’ve covered the ways that drones are being used in commercial settings and provided an overview of commercial drone regulations, let’s go back to that list of top commercial drones we provided at the beginning of the article.

Here is our list of the top seven commercial drones on the market, with specs and details included. 

Note: Outdoor inspections refers to inspection scenarios that don’t require a person or drone to enter an asset, such as cell phone tower or power line inspections. Indoor inspections refers to inspection scenarios that do require a person or drone to enter an asset, like boiler or tank inspections.


DJI Matrice 300 RTK—Outdoor inspections

DJI’s new M300 RTK was designed specifically with inspections and public safety applications in mind, but we’ve decided to focus on its outdoor inspection capabilities because of its long transmission range, high-tech obstacle avoidance, the high quality camera DJI has paired with it, and it’s long flight time.

commercial-drones-dji-matrice-300

Key specs for the DJI M300 RTK:

  • Max Flight Time—55 minutes
  • Obstacle Avoidance—Six obstacle avoidance sensors for improved safety while flying
  • Transmission Range—9.3 miles 
  • Rain and dust proof—The M300 has a weather sealing rating of IP45, which means it can sustain rain and dust while in the air (the M200 V2 is rated at IP43)

 

Learn more about the DJI Matrice 300 RTK.

Flyability Elios 2—Indoor inspections 

The Elios 2 is Flyability’s flagship drone designed specifically for flying in confined spaces. The drone sits in a cage, allowing it to collide and continue flying, making it the best option on the market for indoor inspections because it can safely fly in spaces that almost no other drone can safely enter. 

commercial-drones-elios-2-drone

Key specs for the Flyability Elios 2:

  • Collision resilience—reliable operations in any situation
  • Confined space accessibility—fly where no other drone can
  • Robust transmission—inspect beyond line of sight
  • Intuitive to fly—the Elios 2 was made to be easy to fly, and new drone pilots have reported learning how to use it for basic missions in just a few hours
  • Inspection features—GPS-free stabilization, distance lock, and full HD all combine to make the Elios 2 a powerful tool for collecting visual data for inspection purposes
  • Robust inspection lighting—with 10K of lumens and both oblique and dustproof lighting, the Elios 2 was designed to provide the lighting you need for challenging indoor inspection scenarios

 

Learn more about the Elios 2.

DJI Mavic 2—Aerial photography/videography

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is a popular model for professional drone photographers and videographers, as well as for prosumers (amateurs who want to work with professional equipment). Its foldable design makes it highly portable, and it has a high quality camera from Swedish manufacturer Hasselblad. 

commercial-drones-dji-mavic-2

Key specs for the DJI Mavic 2 Pro:

  • Camera resolution—still images at 48 MP, video at 4K with 60 fps
  • Camera sensor size—1” CMOS sensor
  • Max flight time—34 minutes
  • Max speed—42 mph (67 kph) when in sport mode
  • Other Features—DJI Geofencing, 8K Hyperlapse, Return-to-Home, OcuSync 2.0, and APAS 3.0 obstacle avoidance.

 

Learn more about the DJI Mavic 2.

Freefly Alta 8—High-end cinematography

The Freefly Alta 8 represents a big step up from the Mavic 2 Pro, and is a commercial drone made primarily for high-end cinematography. To clarify the distinction between the Alta 8 and the Mavic 2, the Alta 8 would be ideal for work on movies while the Mavic 2 would be suitable for non-movie related professional photo/video work. 

commercial-drones-freefly-alta-8

Key specs for the Freefly Alta 8:

  • Dual camera mounting options—allows for a different perspective
  • Weather-resistant—drone has plastic enclosures to protect sensitive components and two fully enclosed weather resistant receiver compartments
  • Carbon fiber airframe and propellers
  • Built-in supports—for both First-Person-View (FPV) and Radio Tx/Rx systems
  • Other features—precise positioning, height hold, vertical and ground velocity limits, Return-to-Home

 

Learn more about the Freefly Alta 8.

DJI Agras MG-1—Agriculture

The DJI Agras MG-1 was created just for use in agricultural applications. Agriculture has been one of the fastest-growing sectors for drone adoption over the last few years, and the Agras has helped push that adoption even further. It lets farmers collect high quality data on the status of their crops, and also enables remote crop care with its ability to spray pesticides and other materials.

Fun fact: The Agras MG-1 has been retrofitted to spray disinfectants in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

commercial-drones-dji-agras

Key specs for the DJI Agras MG-1:

  • Payload—10 kg (2.6 gallons) 
  • Spray capacity—7-10 acres per hour with interchangeable spray nozzles
  • Reliability and longevity—integrated centrifugal cooling system increase reliability and longevity
  • Terrain follow—microwave radar scans the terrain below to maintain stable height above plants regardless of elevation changes
  • Max flight time—24 minutes
  • Max speed—22 m/s (49 mph)

 

Learn more about the DJI Agras MG-1.

Parrot ANAFI USA—Public Safety

Parrot’s ANAFI USA is a tough drone that comes with both a visual and thermal sensor, making it a good tool for both law enforcement, fire departments, and search and rescue. With a long flight time, one of the highest IP ratings* of any drone on the market, and an easy to use platform, the ANAFI USA is a powerful tool for public safety agencies.

*Note: IP stands for Ingress Protection and rates how strongly protected an item is from dust and water.

commercial-drones-parrot-anafi-usa

Key specs for the Parrot ANAFI USA:

  • Flight time—32 minutes
  • High quality visual camera—4K HDR / 21 MP camera with 32X zoom
  • Thermal camera—FLIR BOSON thermal sensor
  • GPS-less environments—works indoors without GPS
  • Made for harsh conditions—protected from dust and rain, with an impressive IP53 qualification
  • Ease of use—can launch from the palm of the hand, making it easy to fly

 

Learn more about the Parrot ANAFI USA.

senseFly eBee Classic—Mapping & Surveying

The senseFly eBee Classic is known in the drone industry for its mapping and surveying capabilities. With an extra-long flight time of 50 minutes, a high-quality camera, and a fixed wing design that gives it extra stability in general, and especially for flying in strong winds, it has become a go-to drone for those looking to map or survey large areas of land. 

commercial-drones-sensefly-ebee-classic

Key specs for the senseFly eBee Classic:

  • Camera resolution—20 MP stills
  • Max flight speed—56 mph (90 kph)
  • Max flight time—50 minutes
  • Software—works with Pix4Dmapper and Pix4Dbim, provides multiple file outputs
  • Other features—transform aerial photos into accurate orthomosaics (maps) and 3D models

 

Learn more about the senseFly eBee Classic.

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