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Trying to go pro: 6K or spring for thermal?

Doug Simmons

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Hi first post but I've followed this forum for months, recreational DJI guy itching to go Autel to try my hand at making a few dollars! Tl;dr, wondering whether to spend two grand and change or go straight to the thermal?

If you're in the mood to field a bunch of other questions, I've been flying fixed wing and helis obsessively for several years, I'm solid with the sticks, also a decent photographer, and would love to be able to fly drones and justify it to my ol' lady with a positive cash flow. So I'm plowing through pilot institute to get my 107. In other words please just presume I'm competent and motivated for the sake of this question, whether to go Evo 2 Pro 6K for a few grand or to lay down seven, eight grand for thermal. Or the Pro 6K with the option, should this work out, to buy the thermal gimbal upgrade.

What interests me the most is not aerial real estate but land surveying / photogrammetry, construction sites, facade inspections, roof inspections, and especially cell tower and other high-risk things. A supplemental fantasy, to tell my local police dept with whom I have a good rapport as well as fire that if they need a high grade drone/drone operator on hand for search and rescue or seeing where the fire is hottest flying over the roof etc, or to offer to train cops/firemen to fly, that sounds like my idea of a great time, and maybe a way to get my name out there with some credibility under my belt as someone worth hiring. Also to give the cops a chance to test a drone with superior thermal to other options within their budget (and a bit more flying time) that they can fly wherever they need without worrying about dji geofencing. You get the idea.

Two grand+ is not that much but a lot of money, .... but I'm fairly serious about this endeavor and if going thermal is enough of an asset to make my services more marketable, should I take the leap? Or inch my way up with the non-thermal and then maybe get the thermal camera upgrade one day if this turns out not to be a bad idea? If you own a home or a hotel and want a roof inspection, you're going to want decent thermal, or not that big a deal in most cases? For those of you who do things like cell tower inspections, or any commercial gig, an absolute must? For you 107 commercial guys who've made it over the hump into profitability, do you ever take on apprentices in my position?

Lastly for you mapping guys who try to keep costs down, any of you try WebODM? From the trials of competition that is a whole lot more expensive than zero dollars, it's damn impressive, but do a lot of people insist on recognizable names like Pix4D? Can I take a flight made in, say, Google Earth, an export from Litchi or Dronelink, and dump it into an Autel drone flight, in addition to using its mapping software which I realize is quite capable? Can the Autel do automated facade inspections, either on its own or if I use some software/service that can export in a format it understands -- can I plan vertical flights common software can stitch together? For mapping, video with simultaneous photo taking would be a big help, wow. When doing that, the pictures, are they degraded in any way quality-wise, how frequently interval shots can be taken?

The avoidance sensitivity is a very common complaint and with my DJI flying I always have it off, but I'm not doing gigs yet. Just practicing, honing my skills. Is there any way to tone that down without turning it off, or do you guys just end up switching it off? Oh just one more, sorry, ... Let's say I'm just in it for mapping, which would do me right, 6K or 8K in terms of covering more ground in less time with more detail and less warping? Like with the e-shutter or rolling shutter, is it slower, more vulnerable to distortion when taking a shot while moving, than the 6K camera? Pic related, my first stab at a 3D mission render (room for improvement). Thanks fellas!

Doug
 

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herein2021

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I can't answer all of your questions (or even most for that matter) since I have no interest in thermal or mapping but I do happen to have a few answers:

  • Is Thermal Worth It - the people who make real money in thermal and I'm talking 6 figures are the ones who get thermographer certified. If you manage to get thermographer level 3 certified you could be looking at charging $40K+ for a single project and traveling the country doing the job. The thermographer that I am basing this information on said he has endless work and that the real money is in the inspection report not so much the actual inspection. He takes all of the imagery and writes a detailed report based on industry standards; and the only way you get to his level is to be certified. So yes, I think thermal could be very lucrative, probably more so than you realize, but you have to take and pass all 3 levels of thermography, then figure out how to market yourself, and most likely you would need to be prepared to travel to where the bigger jobs are at. The one I talked to said he spends about two weeks on site collecting all of the imagery and about 1-2 months preparing his report. Shooting random roof inspections and for locals especially without a report to go with it will probably never pay for the equipment necessary to generate the images. Also, the bigger clients will only hire someone who is thermographer certified who can also produce the report for liability reasons.
  • 6K vs 8K - I'm a photographer and videographer and I will always choose the 6K over the 8K so my opinion here is a little biased. For your use case I would check the FOV of each camera and make a decision based on that (if cost is no issue) but I know me personally I would still go with the 6K due to the larger sensor and low light improvements.
  • OA Sensitivity - It is either on or off, nothing in between. I do typically leave it on, it only really gets annoying when landing or taking off in smaller spaces but other than that I haven't really seen much interference from it. It also randomly thinks something is above the craft when nothing is but at least that does not cause it to slow down. In case you haven't seen it, my post here answers this question and others you may have.
If I were in your situation what would I do? What I personally would do in your situation is buy the EVO II 6K, and a handheld thermal imaging device. I would then sign up and go through the certification classes to become a thermographer. If I decided I had no interest in this career field or did not achieve the level necessary to make real money with it as a career....then I would stop there and not buy the thermal camera for the EVO. If it turned out to be something I was passionate about then I would get Level 3 certified, start advertising for work immediately and if I got a gig that paid real money for a drone thermographer I would then rent a thermal imaging drone platform. After I got that first job or two under my belt with rented equipment I would then take the plunge and buy my own.

BTW I do this with camera equipment and drones as well. When I have odd one off jobs that my current equipment can't handle, instead of buying the equipment for what could be the only job of its type; I just rent it (Hollywood does the same thing). I can rent the Inspire 2 with the X7 camera when needed, additional cinema cameras when needed, etc. I then add the rental costs and insurance fees to the client's invoice as the cost of producing that project. Its very common to rent a few times before you buy.

I personally have no interest in thermography, photogrammetry, or search and rescue, but I did do quite a bit of research after meeting the thermographer but decided it just wasn't for me. Search and rescue does interest me but I don't feel like current drones are capable of doing so effectively even with thermal cameras; but that's a different topic for a different day.
 
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Doug Simmons

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You put a lot of thought into what is very valuable advice to me and I am truly grateful. I'll get moving on this, including figuring out the level 3 certification, handheld, renting and other areas, including some I've had exposure to professionally, like slam-equipped autonomous mine mapping, got an old buddy who was successful in that who might give me more ideas of where I can swing this, if not just sticking exactly to your suggestions. Thank you so much!
 
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Atomic08

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I'll add my $0.02
Not in anyway as detailed as herein2021 but what I have found out in my area.

A few years ago I wanted to try and get my foot in the door with the local Police and Fire departments and found
out that they got grants from NY State to purchase their own Drones plus classes to teach them how to use them
and get certified. Our local NYS Police has a number of the larger DJI drones in a search and rescue trailer command post
that include large TV Style monitors for the ground crews to watch. Our local Sherriff Dept also has some drones to use.

Three of our local Fire Departments also use drones for fire control with the thermal imaging and external monitors.

In addition, the NYSEG crews also use large commercial drones for tower and transformer inspections.
A long while back I posted some photos of NYSEG using their drones and it was a huge 6 rotor unit !
All these drones cost WAY...more than my pocket can afford.

So before you decide, maybe check with your agency's to see if they already have drones that they use for what you may want to try.
I have found out that the police and fire usually don't publicly announce all their expensive toys!

Good luck, maybe your area doesn't have the resources to buy what our area has !

 
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Msimmons

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I can add a little bit to the discussion about use of thermal in Search and Rescue. I am with Weber County Search and Rescue, and we have 2 thermal drones dedicated to search and Rescue as well as a few others (some county owned some personal), Thermal can help when looking for someone IF you know how to use it. It is not as easy as just buying a thermal camera, and throwing it in the air and magically finds someone. We currently are heavily invested in the DJI products. I bought the Autel to learn about it, and because it has the 6k camera, for personal photography / videos.
 

jmason702

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you will need both. Need the one-inch sensor for mapping. and thermal for well... thermal. You need at least 20MP to produce good maps and models. the 8K is only a 12MP camera at heart
 

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