The backbone of your program is the fleet of drones and supporting devices that your pilots will fly. Take your time to research which devices make the most sense for your organization - not only the raw capabilities, but also the number of devices you need to be successful.
Selecting the Right Drones
DJI is the leading provider of professional grade drones, and offers a wide range of products and capabilities. Other drone manufacturers, such as Parrot, Yuneec, and Skydio, also offer drones that are suitable for the challenges of public safety.
DroneSense currently provides complete support only for DJI drones, which are still the most mature solution for the vast majority of UAS programs. Unfortunately, any non-DJI drone will not immediately be compatible but DroneSense is actively working to support programs that are precluded from using DJI due to operational requirements or data security concerns.
Features vs. Cost
One of the first big decisions in building a UAS fleet is which drones to choose. Because public safety missions can occur in challenging environments, there is often a temptation to choose higher end equipment. For newer programs, especially those on a budget, this can lead to problems.
Drone operations are not without risk - the lifespan of a drone can be as short, and losing an expensive drone after a crash or because of other hardware issues can be a huge blow to a program's ability to respond to real world issues.
Often, new programs can be better off starting off with multiple of the less expensive drones that balance operational requirements with other demands such as low complexity, ease and speed of deployment, and lower initial expense.
When in doubt, choose redundancy. The ability to spin up more pilots or swap out hardware after an incident can make all the difference.
For example, a single M210, along with a Z30 and an XT2 gimbal, Cendence controller, an iPad Pro, extra batteries, props, cables, and other accessories can consume the majority of the hardware budget for a small UAS program. In contrast, if you instead choose two Mavic 2 Zooms and two Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drones, along with several iPads or iPad Minis, extra props and batteries, you should still have several thousand dollars available for training and additional supporting equipment and subscriptions.
Of course, there are cases where the more robust drones like the M210 are going to be the best solution for a given scenario, especially in poor weather conditions or where dedicated, feature-rich gimbals such as the Z30 or XT2 are needed. New UAS programs will need to balance out the need to respond to these situations along with their pilots' qualifications and availability when such situations arise. Future expansion of a program is often an ideal time to invest in the more robust devices.
Leasing vs Purchasing
More and more agencies are looking into leasing as a means of growing their programs. While it can be more expensive in the long run, lease options can provide more flexibility and reduce up-front costs. Leasing also allows an organization to minimize future risk should the US government become even more strict regarding the purchase or operation of Chinese-made drones. With any lease agreement, be mindful of the specifics:
- How long is the commitment?
- What risks do you assume should the drone get damaged?
- Are there equipment refresh intervals?
- Will there be operational limitations imposed?
In general, new UAS teams are better off with a larger fleet of devices available at the ready. Therefore, we recommend starting a new program with the Mavic 2 Zoom and Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual drones.
Most importantly, you must keep in mind the tactical situations and environments you'll need to be prepared for. If you will likely need to fly operations in more demanding situations or weather conditions, the M210 is going to be the smart choice. However, if you do not need the more expensive hardware at the outset of your program, you should strongly consider deferring those purchases until you're ready to expand your fleet.