There are many choices to make when setting up a new UAS program for public safety. In general, it's best to start your program by investing in flexible, durable, and readily transportable equipment. Having redundancy is critical, because there will inevitably be equipment failures or crashes that render a drone inoperative. Being able to pull up another drone, swap out an overheated iPad, or grab a new cable because the old one got pinched in the case will ensure your program is safe and mission ready.
For drone hardware, we recommend starting with the Mavic 2 platform. This drone is highly responsive and easy to control, has full access to automated flight planning tools, and provides the most flexible platform for most uses. The Mavic 2 Zoom is particularly useful with its optical zoom capability. The Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual is also an excellent choice for organizations that need some thermal imaging support but are still not ready to invest in a detachable gimbal drone like the M210. For training drones, look into less expensive drones such as the Mavic Air or Spark. The Mavic Mini and Tello are still not available for use outside of DJI software.
The Parrot Anafi or Anafi Thermal are very well-rounded devices and are likely the best bet for those who do not want (or are precluded from using) DJI drones. They are very similar in price and performance as the Mavic 2 drones from DJI. DroneSense will have support for these drones soon.
For tablets, the newer the better. The iPad Pro is an excellent device, but the iPad Air and iPad Mini 5 will provide very similar performance at a fraction of the price. For best accuracy for the drone-to-pilot distance and bearing in the Pilot app, you will need to have WiFi+Cell devices. DroneSense requires little on-tablet file storage, so you can skip that added expense.
For Android, the DJI Smart Controller is the best investment. If you already have Crystal Sky devices, they will also work, but we are reluctant to recommend them as a new purchase as they're reaching end-of-life in their current configuration. DroneSense is currently iOS-only but is building an Android version of the Pilot app that should be available soon.
Be sure to invest in proper cables (and cable adapters) as needed for the drones and tablets you've selected and have extras available. For the latest iPad Pro models, make sure the USB-C cables you get are appropriately flexible to avoid creating tension on the connection between the remote and the tablet.
Media is another critical component of your program's workflow, so you'll want to invest appropriately when choosing SD cards. Faster cards are a better investment. SanDisk Extreme Pro cards are a solid choice, and the Extreme Plus and Extreme should also work well in most cases.
For networking, while WiFi+Cell iPads can provide internet connectivity (and pilot location accuracy), you should also consider having WiFi mobile hotspot devices that work well with the ISPs that best cover your area of responsibility. For areas that have good coverage, a good quality, off-the-shelf mobile hotspot should provide sufficient connectivity for up to 3 or 4 drones streaming video at a time. Hotspots with dual SIM cards for access to different ISPs is a smart investment, as network coverage can be spotty or congested, and vary depending on conditions. Look into First Responder-focused networks like AT&T's FirstNet, but keep in mind that there may be cases that other networks will provide a better experience.
Firewalls and network security setups can be an obstacle to success for UAS operations. DroneSense video streaming has been designed to work within even tightly controlled networks behind firewalls, which is not uncommon for public safety or other municipal organizations. DroneSense Support will gladly work with your IT department to ensure you have full access to video streaming and other collaboration features in our platform.
Of course, a drone program is more than just the equipment. Take time up front to define a clear mission and revisit it as your program evolves. Hire and train the right personnel and provide them a clear structure that ensures proper accountability and repeatable processes so everyone can focus on the task at hand.
Finally, remember that you're not alone - there are UAS organizations all over the country you can learn from and collaborate with. Reach out to agencies in your area and at the state level to see what they can offer you as you build out your program. Vendors are another resource - many drone resellers offer support options and expertise you can rely on. And of course, we here at DroneSense are always eager to help.