The small Unmanned Aerial Systems (sUAS) business is very appealing. For less than US $20,000, you can outfit a complete system for collecting aerial imagery and processing the data into an array of high quality mapping product.
But who will roll out these new low cost mapping systems? Will it be the major airborne acquisition companies? Perhaps, but with a business model predicated on large collects, does this fit? Will it be the owners of the sites that require mapping such as quarry owners, land developers, coal fired power plants? Or will it be professional land surveyors who offer sUAS mapping as another tool in their toolbox?
In my mind, the professional surveyor is best equipped to roll out this new business tool. The PS is already tuned to a business model of travelling to small sites, collecting data, processing results and consulting with the client. The sUAS will provide a new tool that will allow the PS to offer a broader range of more accurate services to the client base. For example, rather that delivering estimated elevation models based on a few RTK points, she can now deliver very dense point cloud derived models based on dense image matching.
Perhaps the most exciting new business opportunity is the rapid collection of accurate volumetric data. Today this is done either by manned aerial mapping or by ground based techniques. Ground based techniques are very problematic for many situations since accurate data collection of complex or tall stockpiles is very difficult. Manned airborne methods work extremely well but are prohibitively expensive for high frequency monitoring (even quarterly monitoring is not practical except for the most valuable of stockpiles). Enter the sUAS. A flight of 20 minutes can provide the base data necessary for very detailed volumetric computations over a typical 1 square kilometer area. In fact, the entire process, from mission planning to client deliverable can be performed in less that one day.
The sUAS is upon. Enterprising folks will figure out very quickly how to produce professional products at a profit.
(Read the GeoConnexion article describing our experience of putting together an sUAS system.)