Drone Business Ideas: Top 40 in 2017
It’s no secret that the demand for drones is skyrocketing across the globe. According to Bloomberg, the global drone market is forecasted to be $127 billion by 2020! Every day, businesses and drone pilots are coming up with new drone business ideas that are fueling an entrepreneurship boom. A combination of new technology, falling prices, and new regulations have combined to unleash aerial advances like never before. Each of these drone business opportunities has potential for a new model or plan, which means there’s opportunity for you to get creative!
If you’re looking for how to make money with drones, this is the right place! The opportunities are almost endless, and we’re here to help you figure out the best drone business ideas for your situation. It’s not as easy as just buying a drone and having people pay you for pictures, however. The FAA has lined out the US rules (Part 107) for commercial drone operations, and drone pilots need to pass a test to become licensed before using drones for business, or face heavy fines. Check out the FAA’s guidelines for commercial drone operations here or take a look at this guide to getting started.
Once you’re an experienced drone pilot, have a drone of your own, and are Part 107 licensed, you’re ready to start making money with drones! (If you aren’t licensed, a training class like UAV Coach can help you get there) There’s way more to having a quadcopter business than just taking pictures of people’s houses and property. Check out the top 40 best drone business ideas of 2016 below for an idea of some of the hottest markets and opportunities to make money with drones right now.
Oh, and here’s a final hint: you can do almost any of these with our drone, the Phantom 4 Pro!
Table of Contents
Photography Drone Business Ideas
1. Residential Real Estate Drone Photography + Videography
Residential real estate photography is one of the best ways to start figuring out how to use drones for business. Many realtors and homeowners are looking for a way to make their property stand out in a crowded market. With so many buyers searching for homes online, having quality aerial photography and video can help a home sell faster and for more money. Check out the video below for some excellent aerial real estate samples! We recommend the very popular DJI Phantom 4 Pro or DJI Mavic Pro for real estate photography first timers.
2. Commercial Real Estate Drone Photography + Videography
Commercial real estate is another, arguably more lucrative opportunity for aerial video. Commercial real estate sites are typically larger than residential sites and therefore can effectively use drones to showcase the larger area. Large commercial clients also typically will have a larger budget than residential realtors due to the value of the properties being higher. Aerial video can specifically highlight property features such as specialized assets. Check out the video more for an excellent example of a commercial real estate produced video!
3. Drone Sports Videography
Drones can capture perspectives that have never before been seen in extreme sports. An experienced drone operator can cost much less than a helicopter and get much more closeup footage, which makes for some excellent surfing videos. Filming practice to analyze plays, taking video of matches to review performance, and getting new perspectives are all ways that new drone pilots could take advantage here. Many pilots are using the Phantom 4 Pro to get aerial shots of extreme sports by using the ActiveTrack technology which allows the drone to ‘lock on’ to a moving target. By locking in an extreme sports client, entrepreneurs could really excel with this as a gateway to other drone business ideas!
4. Drone Wedding Photography + Videography
Everyone wants their wedding to stand out, especially in the age of social media. Combine that with the ridiculous prices that wedding photographers charge, and aerial wedding videos could be a very lucrative drone business idea for someone who’s just starting out. Just try not to crash your drone into the bride.
Best Commercial Drones for Your Business
Commercial and Industrial Drone Business Ideas
5. Power Line Inspections
Inspecting power lines in person is very time consuming and expensive. It’s also extremely unsafe and risky for people to physically be on power lines. Powerful new drones equipped with zoom cameras and spectrometers can work with local governments to contract out drone power line inspections at a much lower cost than traditional methods. There’s huge opportunity for drone pilots willing to learn about how the utility industry works to make money with drones!
6. TV and Cell Tower Inspections
Much like power lines, traditional manned inspections are risky and fraught with danger for the inspector. Drones can make these inspections cheaper and safer for everyone involved. The latest drones can provide high resolution images that allow owners to see if there is damage from weather, old age, or even wildlife! Getting into the cell tower inspection game has a higher barrier to entry than some others, but could be one of the higher margin drone business ideas on this list.
7. Solar Installation Inspections
Thermal cameras (like those from well known manufacturer, FLIR) can integrate with more and more consumer drones. New pilots can find great drone business ideas related to the inspection of solar arrays. By helping a company manage the productivity of these assets and identify problems, they can save a ton of time and money. By flying a thermal imaging drone like the video below, drones can identify any damaged solar panels and use that intelligence to take action before problems get too big.
Drones can help those in the forestry industry both protect and monitor the health of forests, while reducing costs to evaluate commercial value of forested property. Instead of walking through the woods in person, operators can fly drones over areas they wish to inspect and assess tree health from above. This could save both time and money, while allowing the pilot to be aware of any issues like storm damage or illegal logging activity as well.
9. Wind Turbine Inspections
At the beginning of 2015, there were over 270,000 wind turbines in operation, with 800,000 blades in service (source). Drones can be used to inspect these turbine blades for damage caused by wear and tear, mechanical failure, weather events, or bird strikes. Inspection is valuable because fixing or replacing a blade prior to failure is way less expensive and dangerous than a blade failure in the field. Sometimes you’ll even find more than you bargain for like the pilot in the video below!
10. Oil and Gas Pipeline Monitoring
You know that a drone business idea is taking off when a big company like GE gets a hold of it. GE developed their own drone to monitor gas leaks all over their service network. The drone allows them to respond faster, and to bring the right equipment for the level of the leak. This results in happier customers who aren’t losing as much money to the leak in the long run. Drone pilots and entrepreneurs would do well to link up with a larger company and find this type of inspection contract work.
11. Critical Infrastructure Inspection
Many state departments across the country grapple with limited budgets and aging infrastructure. Aerial inspection drones offer a solution for low-cost, accurate, high resolution inspections. They can also typically be completed in less time than a traditional manned inspection while producing better results. By using quadcopters for bridge and infrastructure inspection, local municipalities can have a higher level of understanding about the true health of assets and assess them at a reduced cost.
Start Making Money With Drones: Phantom 4 Pro
12. Roof Inspections
Roof inspections are one of the easiest entry points for people looking for drone business ideas. Almost everyone knows a friend or family member that has had their roof damaged in a storm or is looking at getting it replaced. Drone based roof inspections are a good way to keep contractors honest and reduce quoted prices. They can also help validate insurance claims and make sure that both the insurer and homeowner are getting a fair assessment of any damage.
13. Drone Aerial Mapping and Surveying
Drone startups all over the country are developing great software to perform elevation, 3D, and orthomosaic maps. These maps can help clients scope out work to be done on a construction site, validate earthwork done by contractors, and ensure that properties are valued accurately and appropriately. Startups like DroneDeploy and Airware are making huge steps in the drone software industry and are gaining VC funding as well.
14. Insurance Claim Validation
Many insurance companies and homeowners want to make sure they are getting a fair assessment of any property damage. From validating fire damage to seeing if a roof needs to be replaced after a storm, aerial inspection can help substantiate claims. A new drone pilot could approach an insurance company to be a contracted third party who could perform on-site inspections on-call.
Drones for Disaster Relief
15. Drone Search and Rescue
One of the best applications for aerial technology is the benefit in searching for people that might be lost or hurt. It’s far more effective to search for someone using a drone that has thermal imaging than it is to search for them on the ground at night. This might not be the place to make the most money, but it’s possible that some related drone business ideas include making add on hardware for rescue drones or creating special mapping software for unique missions. Take for example DJI’s partnership with several entrepreneurs who invented a 3D printed utility attachment and a self-releasing delivery capsule to help those in need.
16. Emergency Deliveries
Many companies are taking a look at delivering small, time-sensitive packages to users via drone. UPS tested a drone to deliver emergency supplies to a coastal children’s camp in Maine this summer. A government partnership in Rwanda delivered blood and emergency supplies via parachute and are now bringing that technology to the US. Those searching for drone business ideas could develop self release packaging or identify critical delivery services in their local area.
17. News Reporting
UAV pilots have been recording and finding news-worthy stories since they could first fly with cameras. Now outlets like CNN are starting their own operations like ‘CNN AIR‘ to help tell stories in a more documentary-like way. Local drone pilots could link up with news outlets to help provide coverage of events when the media outlet doesn’t have the time or resources to start their own news drone division. Drones like the Phantom 4 are enabling anyone to become a newscaster! They’re used all over the country to document local happenings to be shared on youtube and beyond.
Drones and the Environment
18. Environmental Monitoring and Compliance
Drones can be used to bring new perspectives to protecting our environment. Different departments across the US are using aerial views to monitor everything from coastline erosion to animal species and populations. UAV technology can be a discrete, non-invasive way to monitor vast areas of forest, coastline, and wetlands cost-effectively. New drones from companies like Sensefly are providing flexible ways for drone pilots to protect the world we live in. For those who are passionate about helping protect nature in the US, related drone business ideas could include contracting out with a local environmental department or selling aerial data to these organizations.
19. Protect and Conserve WIldlife
Many endangered animal populations across the globe are threatened by poachers. These poachers target animals such as elephants and rhinos due to their valuable tusks and horns which can be sold in markets across Asia. Several organizations are using the power of quadcopters to fight back against poachers. Teams like Air Shepherd are working with drones to identify poachers and work with local law enforcement to put an end to this illegal activity.
20. Monitor Natural Disasters
Monitoring natural disasters can be another excellent drone business idea for entrepreneurial remote pilots. By working closely with local law enforcement agencies, pilots could contract out as a third party to provide live aerial images and video of disasters happening in real time. It’s important to note that reckless operation of drones in disaster areas like wildfire fighting can put people’s lives in real danger. However, if coordinated properly, drones can provide an excellent view of areas affected by natural disasters such as hurricanes, tsunamis, and tornadoes. This can help first responders allocate their resources more effectively to help save lives.
21. Meteorology and Weather
Drones are helping weather stations and storm reporters alike get an edge on severe weather. From sampling atmospheric data from multiple sources to getting real-time video about storms, drones can help us get an edge on mother nature. Those looking for weather-related drone business ideas could partner with a storm chasing team to provide intelligence.
23. Inspect Water Management and Irrigation
Water usage is extremely important to farmers, especially in areas like the west coast of the US where drought has been taking place for years. To manage water resources more effectively, farmers are now turning to drones to tackle irrigation inefficiencies. Farmers have to deal with potential losses from complicated underground irrigation systems and now have the ability to see where their crops either are or aren’t being watered. Using UAV technology to help improve irrigation also makes a ton of sense for farmers as the areas they manage are often too large to efficiently survey by foot or ground based vehicle.
24. Monitor Crop Health for Precision Agriculture
Huge advances in UAV software have enabled farmers to better understand their crop health from the skies. Many drone companies have entered the space to offer a customized drone and software package to increase yields. AgEagle, SenseFly eBee, and PrecisionHawk all target farmers looking to capitalize on the productivity gains that can be had from drone data. UAV business owners could buy one of these drones, master the data analytics, and sell service packages to farmers who don’t want to learn or invest in the software themselves.
Drone Surveillance and Security
25. Property Surveillance
Everyone knows the stereotype of the security guard who falls asleep on the night shift, watching an old, boxy television. With the latest drones on the market, companies can now have security that only sleeps when it’s charging. Companies like Japan’s Secom and California’s Aptonomy have already produced semi autonomous drones that can respond to any kind of disturbance or incident on the owner’s property. To be sure, laws regarding autonomous drones and privacy are still developing and changing in the US, and security drones will be right in the middle of the discussion. For those looking to push the envelope with security drone business ideas, founding an drone security company could be a lucrative niche market and great set of drone business ideas!
26. Competitive Intelligence
With new aerial capabilities and technology comes great responsibility. A few shrewd drone pilots have pushed the envelope with drones to get an edge on their competition or reveal an unsavory truth about a rival. These traders sought to use drones to gather nonpublic information on oil stocks. The video below shows how drones were used to reveal what was happening on the Smithfield Foods factory farms. Savvy drone owners who look hard for intelligence based drone business ideas could find new, smaller, long range drones like the DJI Mavic Pro useful for long range uav operations.
27. Private Investigator
There’s no doubt that drones are pushing the boundary of current privacy laws in the US. A complicated tangle of local, state, and federal regulations make it difficult to know exactly what is legal and what isn’t when it comes to drone surveillance. However, if a drone pilot does their research and operates within the bounds of the law, powerful technology could enable them to enhance private investigator capabilities. With zoom cameras, autonomous flight paths, target tracking, long range capabilities, and low profiles, investigation drones will play a bigger and bigger future in the private intelligence world.
28. Start a Drone Blog (Or VLOG!)
Blogging about hobbies (including drones) can be another way to make money. Reviewing quadcopters, partnering with drone manufacturers, and driving traffic for ad revenue are all different ways to make money with drones. Although this method relies less on flying, it can be a great way for pilots to leverage their experience with UAVs to teach others and contribute to the community. This is obviously one of our favorite drone business ideas…you’re reading it!
29. Create a Drone Building Class
DIY drone enthusiasts can use their knowledge to create courses to teach others how to build drones themselves. Everyone from the Cleveland Indians’ pitcher Trevor Bauer to entire Reddit communities are joining in the fun! A great drone business idea is to create a DIY class on Udemy and charge people for the content.
30. Monetize a Drone Youtube Channel
Youtube is the number one place for drone videos, period. Whether it’s the latest drone reviews, pushing the limits of quadcopters, or hilarious (and cringe inducing) aerial crashes. there’s lots of opportunity for drones on YouTube. Lots of users make money by gaining a Youtube presence and gaining free products, sponsorships, and advertisement revenue. This is an excellent and easy to start member of the drone business ideas list for those without a ton of extra cash to spend. By linking users to affiliate marketing links, promoters can capitalize on the hard work that they put in reviewing, writing, and compiling information!
31. Teach Others How to Fly Drones
Teaching others via online courses is a relatively new, yet profitable segment that could benefit new pilots looking for good drone business ideas. By teaching others to fly drones, build UAVs, repair drones, or do cool tricks, an entrepreneur could supplement any income from these other strategies. The greatest thing about selling online courses is that once you put in the work up front, the course revenue is passive and repeatable over and over again without any additional work. If the course were to be updated at any point with new information then the pilot could also charge a premium for the new information! Take a look at these drone training colleges or FPV class for an example.
Aerial Drone Services
32. Sell Aerial Video Clips Online
Ever wonder how commercials on TV get all their beautiful aerial footage? What about movies and documentaries using excellent b-roll footage? Many of those productions either hire cinematography contractors or buy footage from sites like VideoBlocks or Pond5. By editing and uploading stock footage onto these sites, drone operators can earn royalties for each sale and have their footage showcased in incredible applications like commercials, movies, and more! This can be a great drone business idea for those looking to earn passive income from their piloting hobby.
33. Golf Course Mapping
Golf courses are one of the industries that can hugely benefit from aerial views of their product. Gone are the days of poorly rendered computer animations of courses, now drones with 4K camera capabilities are the preferred way to showcase a beautiful course. An easy way to drum up local business would be to create a hole by hole aerial video for a local golf course. We think this is one of the lowest barrier to entry drone business ideas on this list!
34. Film Virtual Tours
Virtual tours can be another great way to use UAVs to gain new perspectives on large campuses. Aerial virtual tours are an excellent way to show people who don’t have physical access to the subject. Out of state students and the elderly are two examples of people who could benefit from these types of media productions. Drone entrepreneurs can team up with local universities, governments, and live events like road races to take advantage of these new markets.
35. Low Altitude Aerial Advertising
Ever see the Goodyear blimp or low altitude planes fly around with advertisements during game days? Well drones are here to bring that to the masses at low altitude! UAVs are naturally eye-catching, so why not take advantage of that and get paid for it? If pilots can figure out ways to fly compliantly within the FAA’s part 107 guidelines, this could be the next level of in your face advertising. Pilots looking for drone business ideas would do well to jump on this bandwagon early before it inevitably gets regulated or banned!
36. Create a Drone Rental Service
Ever had friends that ask to fly the drone? Everyone wants a turn at the sticks, but it’s hard to give up the controls when there’s only so much battery life to go around. A drone rental service could let people try out the controls of new drones and see if they like them before buying. Just be sure to make clients sign a hefty damage waiver before letting them fly away with the best drone in stock!
37. Perform Drone Repairs
First it was PC repairs, now it’s cell phone repairs. The logical next step is to open a drone repair business where clients could send in their damaged quadcopters for fixing. With some electrical and mechanical background and know-how, repairing UAVs could be a lucrative business that builds off an exisiting passion.
38. Start a Drone Delivery Service
Drone delivery is the next big thing. Who would have thought that fast food delivery via drone would be the fastest way to get a burrito in 2016? Delivery of critical items could be a niche market opportunity, especially in remote or hard to reach areas in the mountains. Opportunities for items transported by drones is mostly limited to non hazardous, lightweight materials.
39. Develop Drone Software
Writing and creating drone software could be one of the biggest drone business ideas on this entire post! There’s a host of areas to expand into, from traffic management, flight automation, image processing, real time sensing, drone apps, and many more. WIth more and more drone hardware makers becoming commoditized, and Part 107 licenses flying off the shelves, writing drone software could be a very effective way to stand out and capture decent margins as a drone entrepreneur.
40. Become a Professional Drone Racer
Conclusion: Best Drone Business Ideas
Wow, that was exhausting! If you’ve made it this far, then you definitely have what it takes to jump on one of these exciting drone business ideas and try them out today. Let us know what you think by leaving us a star review below!