Drone Program Software Buyer's Guide
For industry professionals from transportation, construction, mining, utilities, and state and local government, integrating drone programs into their business operations is an obvious choice. Drones can bring crucial clarity to your day-to-day work, help you oversee the finer details of your project site, improve collaboration across teams, and reduce overall project costs.
But it can be difficult to determine which tools would be the best fit for your organization, especially if you are new to the world of drones. After researching a wide variety of options, investing funds and time to implement the software, training your team, launching your drone program, and planning to sustain and scale it for the long term, you want to get it right. Esri can help.
Every day, Esri supports teams like yours in deciding how to implement new drone software technology. Esri can help you clarify the problems you're trying to solve, understand what capabilities are most relevant to you and your organization, and consult with you on best practices for implementation and ongoing success.
That's exactly why we wrote this guide. It is designed to give you a simple framework for choosing the right drone programs for your organization, and it can be used to compare the different solutions you discover as you research your options. This guide explores way to identify your drone program goals; it covers the basics of a drone software platform and the top capabilities to consider as part of that platform; and it includes a drone software evaluation discussion as well as a checklist.
Section 1- Identify your needs and goals
Talk with your team, uncover pain points, and identify areas that have opportunity for growth.
Clarify your pain points
Drone data can help you throughout the complete life cycle of your projects. Take the time to write a prioritized list of your pain points and clearly describe the problems you and your team are facing.
Bring in your key stakeholders
Drone data doesn't live in a silo. Entire project teams across your organization may benefit from using drone data in their day-to-day work. Stakeholders outside of your group will have interesting perspectives and use cases that you may not have originally considered, so get them involved at the start.
Look to the future
You may only have a few immediate projects prompting you to consider using drones right now, but this will likely change in the future. Before committing to a platform that only accommodates your initial use cases, consider how you may use drones in the future—3, 6, 12, or even 24 months from now—and ensure that your software candidate supports that. Scalability across teams is also important, as the number of people across your organization who can use your drone data will increase every day.
Section 2- Learn the basics
Building an in-house drone program? Here are a few of the building blocks of a drone platform for you and your team to keep in mind.
The choice between multiple tools or a single platform
In any drone program, there are a variety of software options for each stage of the workflow: flying the drone and capturing images; processing those images into maps and models; and managing your data in the cloud to gain insights, share with your team, and export into your other CAD, BIM (Building Information Modeling), and GIS (Geographical Information Systems) tools.
A tailored solution is the best bet for an in-house drone program. It enables standardization and scalability on a single platform, keeps data secure and centralized, and provides a simpler workflow from start to finish.
Drone software companies tend to build products for a specific industry. It's important for you to know the industry focus of your drone software candidate. Your chosen drone vendor should not only be an expert on drones but also know the ins and outs of your specific day-to-day work.
Some drone software vendors don't give you, the client, complete ownership over your data or make it easy for you to migrate away from their platform if you wish to do so.
You'll use your drone platform to collect a great deal of detailed—and, at times, confidential—aerial data. You need granular control over who can access your maps and models and what staff can do with them through Full Access and View Only access permissions.
Work with your legal and security teams to understand how your software candidate will keep your drone data secure.
Your drone platform should have support for vehicles from different manufacturers, giving you flexibility to work on diverse projects with individual hardware requirements. Do a deep dive into the file formats that each drone platform can export so that you discover whether they are native to the additional tools you use every day.
Implementation and ongoing success
It can be easy to overlook the implementation process when you're looking for new software, but when it comes to drones, there's a lot to consider: jobsite safety, aviation laws, management of your pilots and fleet of vehicles, effective flight planning, and much more. Implementation can take time, so your drone vendor should provide you with experienced and reliable support.
Section 3- Top features to consider
Now that you've outlined your needs and learned the basics, get up to speed on the must-have features for any modern drone platform.
- Complete suite of flight modes to meet all data capture needs
- High-resolution orthomosaics of flat areas and structurally detailed 3D models of structures, including thermal imagery
- Manual flight capability for inspection
- Plan flights in advance and save basemap data before going on-site.
- Fly with drones from multiple manufacturers.
- Shoot both photos and videos.
- Overlay CAD, PDF, and GCPs for accurate flight planning.
- Use LAANC (Low Altitude Authorization and Notification Capability) enabled technology for fast authorizations in controlled airspace.
- Single project desktop processing
- Unlimited multiproject elastic cloud processing
- Email notification when processing is complete
Ground control points
- Unlimited cloud processing of ground control points
- Support for custom coordinate reference systems
- Native checkpoint functionality for accuracy validation
Data file type outputs
- 3D point clouds
- Standard 3D mesh
- High-resolution 3D mesh
- Image panoramas
- DSM (Digital Service Models)/DTM (Digital Surface models)
Design files and progress tracking
- Overlay CAD and PDF design files.
- Track volume calculations over time.
- Compare flights over time.
- Inspect photos on orthomosaics and point clouds.
- Perform volume, area, and distance measurements.
- Base plane options for volume measurements.
- Quickly count objects like trees and cars.
- Point cloud measurements and a profile viewer.
Export and sharing capability
- Export maps, models, and contours into user-friendly file formats for use in ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Enterprise, and Autodesk BIM 360.
- Export volume, processing, photo, and inspection reports.
- Create a private link to map and photos.
- Control access to your data at the organization, project, and user levels.
- Purchase additional seats as needed.
Section 4-Company evaluation and checklist
Take a closer look at your software candidates and evaluate the companies as a whole.
Customer-centric product development
Your software candidate should be focused on you, the customer. Get a sense of how much they will solicit your feedback, involve you in beta programs for new releases, and incorporate your input into the product road map.
References and testimonials
Customer case studies and testimonials are indicators of whether a software candidate would be the right fit for you. When you read customer case studies, look for answers to the following questions:
- Implementation: How easy is it to get set up and start flying?
- Software performance: How well does the tool perform?
- Usability: Does the platform seem easy to use and offer a simple workflow?
- Customer success: Was the software partner there to help along the way?
- Business impact: What were the bottom-line benefits, such as money or time saved?
Investment in research and development
Technology changes fast, and you don't want your drone platform to be outdated a year or two from now. Look for a company that shows a clear investment in research and development and is constantly improving with new features and updates. Keep an eye on your main candidates and assess their pace of innovation over the course of a few months. Does their platform show signs of regular improvement, or is it largely staying the same