This presentation explores 10 steps to getting launched in the growing drone industry.
Abby Speicher Carroll is the CEO and Founder of DARTdrones, a drone training and consulting company with a presence in over 40 cities nationwide. She began her entrepreneurial journey when she was seventeen years old, founding a social enterprise that is now run as Aya Fair Trade. With her first company, Abby won First Place in Westminster’s Opportunity Quest Business Plan Competition, as well as the award for Best Business Plan in Utah’s Entrepreneurial Challenge. Abby founded DARTdrones while earning her MBA at Babson College. She was awarded first place in Babson’s annual B.E.T.A. Business Plan Competition, first place at the TecBridge Business Plan Competition, and the Class of 2015’s Entrepreneurship Award. In 2017, Abby was also awarded Babson’s Rising Star Award. Most recently, Abby successfully pitched DARTdrones on ABC’s Shark Tank.
Barbaree Duke: Abby is with us today. She is the founder and CEO of DartDrones. Some of you may have even caught her on Shark Tank. She's going to give us the 10,000-foot view, so to speak, of how we get started with drones and some of the things we need to be thinking about. Abby, welcome. We're glad to have you with us today.
Abby Speicher Carroll: Thank you for having me today in the session. I am Abby Speicher and I’m the CEO and co-founder of DartDrones. We are a national drone training school offering classes in over forty cities. Our classes are on Part 107 and how to pass that exam, learning to fly right when you're getting started, and then mission specific training about aerial mapping and modeling, aerial roof inspection, search and rescue. We trained a ton of police and fire departments, a lot of enterprise clients also. Thank you very much and I'll get started.
We're talking about the industry, which I'm sure is why many of you have joined the webinar today is that you're excited about the industry. Drones are changing dozens of industries and providing faster, cheaper and safer ways to complete jobs and tasks. We always hear about how this industry is going to explode and people are so excited, and they can't wait to sort of reap the benefits of the drone industry. Much of that comes from all these different reports coming out about how drones are going to have an enormous economic impact on multiple industries and jobs. There are endless potential uses for drones every day. So, it could be a little bit daunting trying to figure out how to get started with drones in your company or to become a commercial drone pilot. I’ve broken down some of the big steps that you need to consider as you get started, and hope that this helps you start thinking about what you need to do.
So, the first thing to think about is the FAA drone regulations. Back in 2016, FAA came out with this new Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, which means that you can legally become a commercial drone pilot by passing an exam that's offered by the FAA. This exam is computer based, and it's taken at one of 690 FAA testing centers that are all over the country. When you're ready for the exam, you got two hours to answer sixty multiple choice questions. We've found that most of our students are studying between fifteen to twenty hours on average for this exam. It isn't something that you could just pass off the street. But if you do study the right way, we're confident that you'll pass this exam. Once you're committed to it, you just spend some time studying then you could become a remote pilot. Once you have your remote pilot certificate, there are some limitations that that you must stick to: like you have to fly during the day, you can't fly over people, you have to fly in specific airspace.
From there what's important to think about is that the FAA is working on coming up with new ways for you to be able to be approved to do more with your remote pilot [certificate], called FAA waivers. Many people are applying, for example, for a night operations waiver. They submit something to the FAA and then they are accepted to fly at night, so now they're able to do daytime and nighttime operations.
The FAA is also pushing out this new system called LAANC. In the past if you wanted to fly near an airport you would have to go through this big process to get approved by the FAA. It took a long time for you to fly near that airport. Now, with LAANC, you're getting this automatic approval system, which is going to be great for the industry and really opened up where people can fly. Surprisingly, the FAA is working fast, especially for a government agency. So, expect to see more regulation changes. Honestly, there's different stuff coming out every month.
The next thing to think about is what equipment is right for you. I list out three types of equipment here, but honestly the answer is… there is just dozens and dozens and dozens of options. One of the really big players is DJI, who is based out of China, and they're just crushing the commercial drone market. They have 70 percent market share right now. They have tons of different platforms. Almost every drone you see when you see a drone on tv is a DJI drone. They're doing really well, and they have sort of, like Apple, have a ton of different products and then a ton of different versions.
When you're checking it out, just overall, the thing to think about is deciding if you want to do the latest and greatest version, and maybe do a smaller one from DJI. Or if you want to upgrade a little bit and do a bigger one, but maybe it's older version. There's just tons of options. It’s something to be aware of, and if you ever want to talk to someone on our team about what's right for you, our team would be happy to talk to you about that.
In general, most of the drones, the commercial drones, are getting around 30 minutes of flight time per battery. So important thing to think about is how you're going to use your drone and what's going to be right for you and your team, for your use case. Because there is definitely a correct answer, once you know you're use case.
The other thing that you would start thinking about is which payloads you would put on your drone. If you plan to fly to get great pictures and you want to put a very expensive high zoom camera on your drone, you would need probably a bigger drone with more battery capacity to be able to carry that heavy camera. Many people are putting thermal cameras on the drone, LiDar, multispectral cameras. As you start adding these more sophisticated payloads, you definitely need to think about making sure that you have a sophisticated heavier duty drone that can carry those.
The next really big thing to think about is your budget. so, a lot of people think that just the drone is what they're budget is for their drone, but there's a lot of other things that you have to think about with getting started. For example, if you wanted to by a drone that would give you the ability to fly for an entire morning without having access to power, you might use five to six batteries, and the batteries might cost one hundred fifty to two hundred dollars each. Unexpectedly, you're spending 1200 dollars on batteries that you didn't expect. It's something that you have to think about how we'll be using it and what kind of accessories you're going to need to go along with it, as well as insurance. So, we'll talk about that later, but insurance does get expensive, and is something that you definitely want to keep in mind even on a 700-dollar drone. Something that you should definitely think about.
Then also consider your training fees. To take the Part 107 exam is $150, paid to the FAA testing center, but beyond that most people need a study program. So, a study program online is around $250, and in person one is between $600 to $700. Something to think about as well is platform specific training. So, you don't want to just buy your drone. We hear every day of people getting a drone out of the box and crashing at the first day. os you definitely don't want to do that, and you also want to think about how you'll be using your drone.
Once you get out of just flying in a parking lot, there's a lot of other hazards and things that you have to think about in terms of becoming an expert at whatever mission you're planning on flying. A big piece that we talked about with our clients is getting their programs up and running. So, if you're working on building a program within your company, there's just a lot of different things you have to think about. We, often, are talking to their legal team, all the different stakeholders who are trying to answer all these questions that they never had before because they're building these drone programs from scratch. If they've never had a program like this before, and they're trying to figure it out, and their every question leads to ten more questions. And it's just something that you want to get started now, even if you plan on launching this program within the next year. There's just a lot of different questions and scenarios that come out that people are worried about trying to find solutions for, which their right to do, and it's just something that takes a while. So, think about the internal and external barriers for your company and how it's going to affect how your customers see you, how the stakeholders see you, how your legal department has to behave, and it does make a big difference in your company, so something to think about.
In terms of legal considerations, there's just a lot going on. Many of our clients are really, really worried about liability, which they definitely should be worried about. These are flying computers - things go wrong, things happen that you don't expect. You just have to be ready and prepared and really confident in your pilots that you trust them, you know that their training is solid and that you really trust them to be out there flying under your name. But another big piece is that the state and local governments, although the FAA is the authority of the airspace, there are a lot of state and local governments creating laws and regulations that are limiting to drones. Although they can't control really where you can fly, that can stop you from taking off, they can stop you from doing different things. That confuses people in terms of what the regulations are. The jury sort of still out in terms of what the state and local governments have authority to enact in terms of their local drone laws. But it's leaving some of our national clients really confused, if they don't know how to get final answers for their pilots, and it's something that you should definitely start thinking about looking into as you get started.
So, we're back to drone insurance. The issue with drone insurance is that although your company may have liability insurance, you need to have aviation insurance on top of that. For example, you have liability insurance for your drone, so if you did crash into a car and crash into a person you would be covered with liability insurance. There's also a whole insurance. If you crash your drone, it would replace your drone. There's a lot of different insurance options out there. We love Global Aerospace. They offer annual policies, so you usually could expect to pay, let's, say, on a thousand-dollar phantom and it's, your one drone, maybe between like, a thousand and twelve hundred dollars for a yearlong policy. Global Aerospace is also partnered with Verifly, which is this really cool app. It's on-demand drone insurance. You use Verifly and say, “I'm going to be flying here for one hour and we're going to do a two mile radius”, and all these different scenarios into Verifly, and that it gives you a price, which is usually around ten dollars an hour, which is great for someone getting started and doesn't want to pay the big upfront fee. And it just gives you insurance rate when and there when you need it. It's great if f you have a client who says I need two million dollars in liability insurance, and if your annual policy only had one million dollars. You could upgrade on Verifly in seconds and just show your client your policy, then. Drone insurance does get a little bit complicated when you have more pilots, and you're trying to have more drones, and expensive thermal cameras that you're trying to get whole insurance on. So, it can get pretty pricey and it's something that you want to think about, but definitely something that you want to have.
The next piece to really think about is the resource is that you're going to need to be an educated smart drone pilot. Something that we've been working on with most of our big clients is an SOP, standard operating procedures, manual. What we do with this SOP is we talk through with every stakeholder that's involved in the drone program: their pilots, any aviators, and their legal team. And really, what they're doing is just deciding what are they what are they comfortable with ? How close do they want to let someone fly near a house? How high of weather do they want to get someone fly? How high wind? We’re asking them all these questions of how far you want to push the limits. That is something, as a company, that you need to decide if you're going to have people flying for you. You need to think about what our limits are. We need to have this handbook for all of our pilots to make sure that they are really comfortable in what they're supposed to do when an emergency happens, who they're supposed to call, who must be notified, because it's different for every company. You might want to call the legal team right away. You might want to call the program manager. There's just a lot of different options out there and it's something that we're helping our clients talk through and make it things about based on their specific situation. So even as an individual, this is a healthy exercise to go through and start thinking through. What are you comfortable with ? So, you don't find yourself in a bad situation, and then your kicking your butt off later. Then also to start thinking about your drone pilot crews. Some of our clients are training, or over the next few years plan to train, hundreds of people. It can get really complicated. Some of them are using visual observers or multiple visual observers so that they could fly further away from the remote pilot and it gets complicated. Most of these people do not have aviation backgrounds and they’re trying to tell each other that the drone is getting closer to the tower but they they're using different language different wording. If some person would say it one way, and the pilot doesn't see it that way and it doesn't go through the radio the right way, eh ?
There's just a lot that goes into having a bigger crew and making sure that you have this chief pilot within your crew. A chief pilot is usually the one person who's responsible for the drone, responsible for safety, and responsible for software updates. That person then makes sure that their crew is all at the right level and they're talking to each other the right way. It's important, if you're planning on having more than even two pilots to start to identify this and start to talk through how your team's going to work together, and who you're going to need and then how are they all going to be trained in the same way. Even if you're doing this on your own, you are the chief pilot. So now you're responsible for maintenance, software updates, all the firmware updates, and have to be the one that takes that on.
When you're building a program, we've noticed that a lot of our clients sort of break into two paths. One group is really focused on creating the perfect drone program in writing and then with that drone program they say, “Go!”, and they buy everything, and they train everybody, and they do it perfectly. Other people are deciding to just sort of start to get their feet wet and may be purchased one drone, maybe train one pilot. “Okay, now we’ve trained a pilot. Now let's buy a second drone.” And they slowly get into it. There isn't a right or wrong answer. It just something to think about how your company is likely to do this. Are they going to have a book that says this is how we're doing drones in the next five years, and then they're going to stick to the book? Or are they going to sort of let it be a little wishy washy as they start? Either is fine but that's what we've noticed is people sort of fall into two camps.
The last big thing to think about is drone training, and we are a drone training company. A lot of people ask us, “Oh like, isn't it so easy to fly a drone?” And the answer is “yes of course.” If you are just techie and you're okay to go set it up and fly in a parking lot by yourself, then, yes, that is something that you can do. But what we’re very much training our clients on is less about flying for the first time and much more about setting up their administrative side, setting their policies and crews, knowing the regulations and how the regulations will change in the future and how that will trade change their programs in the future. And then there is mission specific training so for night operations, you have to be trained in order to get your night operations waiver. There’re different payloads that are very expensive, so flying a nine-hundred-dollar drone in the back yard is totally fine and something that we've all done but going out and flying a twenty-thousand-dollar drone with a ten-thousand-dollar clear camera on it now becomes a lot more serious, and that's where training becomes really important.
We believe that all pilots need to be trained on emergency procedures. Understanding if they lose their link, if their video display fails, if they lose GPS - how do you respond and what do you do? That's what our classes go through. A huge piece of our training is scenario based, so we're training people in broadcast medium. If you had a helicopter crash a mile up the road, and this is a scenario, how exactly are you going to fulfill getting images of it? Or are you going to are you going to say no we're not flying today? Putting people in the actual scenarios that they will be in, with a lot of stress behind it. So, don't disregard drone training. There's a lot more than just that first flight that you could be trained on that is very important.