5 Ideas (And One Bonus Idea!) For Your Drone Startup
(This post originally appeared on Inc.)
The FAA has proposed new rules for drones and I admit that I’m a little relieved.
The rules limit the drones to only 55 pounds. They can’t be flown outside of the line of vision of the operator and can’t go higher than 500 feet (which is about 50 stories, still pretty high) and 100 miles per hour (which is pretty darn fast). Companies like Amazon are upset because they had plans to deliver packages across the country, so they’ll just have to settle with same day delivery on Sundays and generating $4 billion a year from cloud services. They’ll be fine.
Me? I run a technology company so my whole life is dealing with stuff that frequently doesn’t work as expected. I can’t even get my computer to restart cleanly three times in a row and then I hear that Amazon wants to fly thousands of drones overhead? Regardless of security issues (which are still very much an issue even with the FAA’s proposed ruling) I’m envisioning drones conking out mid-air and dropping on us like deadly bird poop. Or my teenage kids shooting them down for fun on a Saturday night and taking whatever’s inside. Yeah, I’m a little relieved all of this has been put off for another day.
But the FAA ruling means that there’s money to be made, particularly if you’re entrepreneurially inclined. And I’ve got a few ideas to share. Like anything in life, none of this is easy. These are not get rich quick schemes–they all take patience, capital, grit and discipline to launch and grow like any business. But they’re all viable. So are you looking to start a new business? Mechanically-inclined? Then what are you waiting for? Get a few drones, trick them out and get going with these ideas.
Better drones. For starters, the world will need better drones. Drones that can fly for long periods of time without charging. Drones that are indestructible, reliable and safe. Drones that can sense other drones, objects, walls and doors. Drones that have the highest resolution cameras, the fastest processors and the best communication devices possible. Drones that can intelligently “talk” to other drones as well as locks, thermostats and machines. Drones that weigh as little as possible but can carry as much as possible. Drones that can test the limits of the “line of sight” rules,” and are easily operated whether used internally or outside. Ladies–pay attention here, I’m talking about drones, not husbands, OK? If you’re a mechanical engineer or the kind of person who builds things well…get to work. The world awaits you.
Real Estate Photography Drones. Zillow, meet Drillow. As the housing market heats up, real estate brokers from Berkshire Hathaway to Remax will continue to look for new ways to stand out from the competition. So instead of just posting photos of that house for sale, drone photography will soon be the next big thing. And who will those agents turn to when they need that awesome, aerial “virtual visit” of a house, neighborhood and surrounding areas to put on their websites? You and your awesome little company that will happily do the work for every real estate agent in your area.
Internal Surveillance and Inspection Drones. Sure, there are uses for drones outside to survey land and gain a bird’s eye view of territory. But inside drones are just as important. And no, I’m not talking about the drones who do your company’s bookkeeping and payroll. I mean that drones are needed to patrol halls, keep an eye on machinery running overnight, manufacturing processes on the shop floor and employee activities. They will perform visual inspections of equipment, check processes and make sure that areas of buildings and warehouse are secure. Internal drones can be immediately sent to problem spots where it may take longer (or be more dangerous) for a human to reach. Indoor drones will be just as important as outdoor drones, particularly if the FAA’s final legislation allows some latitude in defining “line of sight” rules for drones inside (and that’s up to the drone lobbyists in Washington to argue…a bonus business idea for you just for making it this far in the column without falling asleep!).
Internal Delivery Drones. In manufacturing, time and productivity makes the difference between profits and losses. In a restaurant, delivering food from kitchen to tables without people involved translates into higher margins and a competitive advantage. Moving food in a restaurant or lightweight materials on the shop floor, taking needed parts from one warehouse to the next, delivering paperwork, packages and samples…this currently requires human effort and time. So depending on the size and weight involved, drones will be mini-delivery men, shuttling needed things from office to office, building to building, plant floor to plant floor. The supply chain doesn’t stop at the receiving bay. For many companies it’s just the beginning. And internal delivery drones can play a big part in moving items around faster. That could be your company’s specialty.
Advertising. Think Goodyear Blimp. But on a smaller scale. Now think drones with video screens advertising products, services, promotions and clever contests. Watch them fly into sports stadiums, youth soccer tournaments, crowded parks, street fairs, city-wide marathons and any other event where thousands gather. They’ll hover just above eye level and deliver their trapped audiences important communications about the event, and unimportant (but more profitable) messages from Coke, Toyota, McDonalds and Nike. They’ll provide endless entertainment to us bored and frustrated Phillies fans in the middle of the sixth inning when our team is again down by four runs. And they may even deliver us a hot dog or two come to think of it. Tempted to take a swipe or throw a bottle? Be careful–those same drones can provide a dual purpose of security and surveillance too, another revenue stream for you, the smart entrepreneur.
This is for real. This is actually happening. The FAA is finally proposing rules over commercial drone usage. No one says you have to deliver packages across thousands of miles or shoot down the enemy from a command post in South Dakota. There are other, better ways that you can profit from drones.