Choose the drone
The choice of a drone, regardless of use, is still an economic investment that will soon be subject to a significant devaluation. From which the choice of the drone cannot be made without an adequate analysis of both what is actually needed and the features offered by the potential purchase.
As already discussed in another blog article, for drones there is still no “flight test”, such as the “road test of the car”, so it is essential to understand some parameters (indicators or KPIs), which somehow allow both to evaluate and compare the potential purchase with other drone models.
This guide therefore offers a methodology for analyzing the requirements and performance of a drone.
Drone requirements – What should I do with it?
The first question to ask yourself, when you have made the decision to buy a drone, is: what should I do with it? It seems trivial but it is the crucial point in order to make a good investment.
So, for example, if you have decided to buy a drone for leisure time, you should ask yourself whether the drone will be used only for photos and videos or even for selfies or sports?
The reason for this question? There is no drone suitable for all occasions, multipurpose. If anything, there are drones that have features that are able to satisfy a multiple set of requirements.
Once the purpose has been established, the list of requirements or functions desired by the drone will follow, such as: follow me, gesture, Return to Home, etc.
Tips & Tricks 1: Put black on white: list the purposes for which you would like to use the drone and identify the requirements or the desired functions on board the drone. It is obvious that in the case of a professional drone, drawing up the list of requirements is much easier as a drone of that type can change “nature” by simply changing the payload.
How to evaluate a drone – Functionality and KPIs
The evaluation of a drone, as a hardware means for carrying out recreational or professional activities, can be done through two series of parameters:
- available functions,
- performance indicators (KPIs).
The functions available, for a specific drone model, identify the basic functions of the drone, such as: sports flight, Return to Home function, waypont flight, geofence, follow me, etc.
The performance indicators (KPIs – Key Performance Indicators), on the other hand, refer to the performance capabilities of the drone, understood as: flight time with a battery pack, maximum altitude reachable, maximum distance from the operator, wind resistance, maximum speed, etc.
The functions of the drone
For a careful choice of the drone, there must be an almost – 1 to 1 – correspondence between the functions of the drone and the list of requirements formulated.
For example, if the drone you want to buy will be used for video-photos and selfies, the presence of the following functions: follow me, tracking mode, as well as the possibility of having orbit 360O as a native function for 360 ° panoramas, are fundamental requirements. And again, the compatibility of the drone with the App for autonomous flight planning is another aspect to keep in mind.
Tips & Tricks 2: Put black on white: next to the requirements defined in Tips & Tricks 1, list the features offered for the model under analysis, to evaluate their compliance with your wishes.
With regard to performance indicators, two sets of KPIs can be considered:
- one related to the performance of the drone-UAS,
- the other relating to the performance of on-board equipment (built-in payload).
Drone-UAS performance indicators
The KPIs relating to the APR or the drone-UAVs are those that describe the performance capabilities of the drone, and are easily identifiable in the technical data sheet of the drone; they are:
- Flight Time in minutes: flight time/autonomy of the drone-APR with a battery pack,
- Weight in Kg: weight of the drone including the built-in payload (e.g. standard camera),
- Maximum altitude in meters above sea level or A.G.L.: maximum height reachable by the drone above sea level,
- Maximum horizontal distance that the drone can reach in meters: compared to the pilot’s position,
- Maximum video transmission distance in meters: distance for clear and smooth reception of the video captured by the drone camera;
- Maximum wind resistance in Km/h: maximum sustainable wind speed in flight of the drone.
The 6 KPIs defined above therefore allow to analyze the performance of both a drone for hobby and professional use, and to compare the performance of different models during the purchase phase of a new drone.
Some parameters, such as the maximum ceiling altitude or the maximum distance reachable by the drone, may seem questionable and unnecessary to an inexperienced eye, as we know that the maximum flight height in Italy is normally limited to 120 meters (uncontrolled G space), and that you must always fly in VLOS (on sight).
However, those 3 KPIs assume their importance in terms of UAS investment, since the drone could be used – in the future – also for carrying out Critical Operations in EVLOS/BVLOS (see Drones: Acronyms and Terms).
The other 3 KPIs, Flight time, Weight and maximum wind resistance, are the fundamental parameters that affect the use and usability of the drone. The higher the flight time and wind resistance values, the better the drone’s performance, especially if its weight is relatively low.
Tips & Tricks 3: Put in black and white: for each drone you analyze, report the values of the 6 KPIs indicated in the data sheet, in order to have an overview for an accurate comparison of the drone’s performance capabilities.
Performance indicators On-board equipment – Built-in Payload
Commercial drones normally have built-in payloads, i.e. they incorporate a camera in the drone that can be controlled remotely to capture video and images.
The KPIs related to the built-in payload therefore allow to identify the characteristics of the onboard payloads; their evaluation allows us to understand the correspondence of the payload to the sought requirements. And I’m:
- Camera resolution in MegaPixel,
- Maximum photographic resolution in pixels (pixels horizontally x pixels vertically),
- Photo format (JPG, RAW, etc.),
- Maximum video resolution in pixels (pixels horizontally x pixels vertically),
- Maximum Bit/rate (e.g. 1.6Gbps@4096parmi2160 (23.98p),
- Video formats (MOV / MP4 – H.264 – H.265, etc.).
The KPIs defined above, therefore, allow both to analyze the built-in payload performance (photo-video camera), for a leisure and professional drone, and to compare the performance of different built-in payloads of the various models.
The payload related KPIs alone can also be used for the comparison between different professional payloads not built-in but add-on.
The values of these KPIs must be considered in relation to the use-activity of the drone, in a broad time frame. It is obvious that “high values” are an indication of high performance, but the assessment must be made in relation to actual current and future use.
Tips & Tricks 4: Put black and white: for each drone you analyze, report the values of the KPIs of the built-in payload, in order to compare them with the values of the other models being analyzed.
Drone Evaluation Table – KPIs
All the functional and performance data of the drones and payloads can be easily gathered in an evaluation table for an immediate exhaustive analysis between the various drone models analyzed.
Alongside the KPIs described above, it is important to add is the purchase price of the drone, which must be assessed in the light of the other KPIs.
Below is an example of a comparison table, available for download at following link.
How to fill in the table
The way of compiling the table is very simple. The free box under the heading Model X is reserved for the name of the chosen drone, while the other white boxes are reserved for the functions available for that particular drone model and the related KPIs of the APR and payload.
The data (KPIs) can be deduced from the technical data sheet of the drone. Many cards are available on the 4mydrone website under the drones menu, or online.
In case some KPIs are not available, leave them blank, and proceed with filling in the remaining columns of the table. Failure to declare some parameters by a manufacturer could in fact mean that the data is not good compared to other competitors. So take this into account when evaluating.
The methodology reported in this guide allows you to make an objective assessment of the different drone models based on available functions and performance parameters (KPIs).
The KPIs defined both for the UAV-drones and for the related built-in payloads, are a powerful and simple tool at the same time, which allows to evaluate the performance and intrinsic value of a commercial or professional drone, on the market or immediately. release on the market.
Their use, therefore, allows you to choose a machine (drone-APR), based on performance data, albeit on the plate, so that the drone investment is profitable and lasting.
Note regarding the images: The cover image was created by 4mydrone. The base image is taken from pixabay.com, free for commercial use with no attribution required. The author is Arek Socha. The drone image is taken from the AirDog website which is the legitimate owner. The drone rating table was created by 4mydrone which holds all the rights. The use of the images is exclusively for the purpose of a better understanding of the contents of the article.
Last Updated on/Ultimo aggiornamento – 25/09/2020