Drone-In-A-Box Solutions vs. Manual Drones: Which Is Right for You?
Both drone-in-a-box solutions and traditional, manually-controlled drones offer benefits & drawbacks. So, which one is right for you?
Without a doubt, drones have revolutionized the way we inspect facilities, collect data, and photograph the world around us. As a technology, drones have proven themselves to be versatile and an excellent investment.
As UAV technology advances, operators have been presented with the option of manually controlled drones or those that operate without the intervention of a pilot.
In the last few years, many drone OEMs have started to develop drone-in-a-box (DIAB) solutions for enterprise customers. DJI, Autel Robotics, Skydio, and others have all unveiled their turn-key solutions for enterprise drone clients.
Thanks to these advances, those looking to benefit from UAV technology now have even more ways to adopt and use drones.
Now, for some organizations, a trained commercial drone pilot’s skills are necessary. But, others – especially those with routine flights over the same area – may not need a pilot behind the sticks.
So, which is right for you? A drone-in-a-box solution, or a traditional drone?
Let’s discuss the pros and cons of each, and explore which drone solution is ideal for your operation.
What Are Drone-In-A-Box Solutions?
Before we dive into the pros and cons, let’s define drone-in-a-box solutions.
When pilots control drones manually, they’re responsible for every movement of the aircraft and the data the it captures. While this level of control is necessary for many use cases, some operations are best served using autonomous solutions.
This is where drone-in-a-box solutions come in.
Typically, drone-in-a-box solutions are comprised of the drone, along with some type of docking station.
In addition to providing the drone with a spot to take off and land, the dock protects the drone from the elements, controls the drone in flight, charges batteries, and transfers data to the appropriate parties.
Best of all, it can all take place automatically, with little-to-no need for human interaction.
A preprogrammed flight plan directs where the drone will fly and what data it will capture during the flight.
Of course, typically trained pilots remain on standby to take control of the drone in an emergency situation. But, outside this type of event, the drone-in-a-box solution handles all aspects of operations without human intervention.
Pros and Cons of Drone-In-A-Box Solutions
When it comes to using DIAB solutions, autonomy is the absolute greatest benefit. Once deployed, the drone does exactly as programmed.
This makes it especially valuable for routine, repeatable actions. Repetitious tasks, such as monitoring the security of an outdoor supply yard, can become monotonous for human pilots to fly.
But, DIAB platforms can fly over the yard every hour, if desired, collecting the data it’s programmed to, regardless of how monotonous it seems.
In addition to greater autonomy, DIAB solutions easily fit into existing systems. Drones can operate in a manner that complements equipment already in place, such as sensors and cameras.
For example, drones can fly above structures and cover camera blind spots. This way, they add to your system rather than replacing it.
However, three key disadvantages also exist with DIAB platforms.
For one, with greater autonomy comes less manual control. Unless someone intervenes, the drone will fly the same path it is told to, before returning to the dock.
Unlike a human pilot, who may spot something that warrants more attention, a DIAB continues collecting data without much scrutiny between each image captured. That said, it’s worth noting AI could change this in the near future.
Additionally, most docks require a power source. So, DIAB solutions aren’t going to scale up the side of a mountain with you to deploy at a base camp. And, since DIAB’s require connecting to some sort of energy supply, it limits where you deploy them.
Finally, as with any system, more parts mean more maintenance. Operators must factor in the time to maintain not only the drone, but the entire system. Depending on the quality of the DIAB and the operating environment, this could significantly increase the workload for maintenance personnel.
Manually Controlled Drones
Compared to drone-in-a-box solutions, manually flown drones provide a few advantages worth considering.
The first, and possibly most important benefit, is greater flexibility.
Unlike a DIAB, a pilot flying a drone under their control can bring the drone to just about any location they can reach. Once at the location, the drone can perform a wide range of tasks, and not just those preprogrammed into the docking station.
Additionally, manually controlled drones don’t require on-site power supplies, meaning they can operate far away from civilization.
Many use cases require work in remote areas. For instance, if you’re using your drone to map Mayan cities with LiDAR, a drone-in-a-box solution wouldn’t be suitable, though standard drones would shine.
Of course, manually controlled drones do come with drawbacks.
Most significantly, manually controlled drones require a trained, and often certified, pilot. Depending on the structure of your organization, this may require you hire pilots as independent contractors, or train staff to become pilots.
Once you have your pilot, they must stay focused throughout the flight. Factors such as sickness, fatigue, and stress affect human operators, which is not true for a DIAB.
So, Which Choice Is Best For You?
So, should you choose drone-in-a-box solutions or use manually-controlled drones?
Ultimately, it comes down to your use cases, and the needs of your operations.
If you need to conduct repetitive, standardized operations, then drone-in-a-box solutions could provide your best choice. Especially if keeping a pilot around at all times of the day isn’t exactly practical.
But, if you require more flexibility, and your drone’s use cases often change, nothing beats a highly skilled pilot. Additionally, because manually controlled drones typically cost a fraction of a DIAB system, they’re more easily accessible for many organizations.
Of course, when in doubt, you can always speak with experts to guide you in selecting the best drone system for your needs.
So, are you ready to take advantage of drones for your organization? If so, how do you get started? Do you hire out or bring your drone program in-house?
At Consortiq, we help you find a better way with drones, from consultation and program implementation to actually doing the work for you.
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