Operations Support and Marketing are Essential
The wise guy answer is: Yes. But, a wise owl, with a different perspective might say: of course the answer is yes, but more importantly it depends on your business model and its priorities.
I think we all can agree taking “ABQ Ride,” Taxis, Uber, Lyft or for heaven’s sake the “Railrunner”are not practical for transporting you and your sUAS (drone) equipment to various locations to gather the needed photographs, video or thermography shots for your clients. Agreed. So what type of vehicle is needed, what should it do and how should it be used. It depends:
Absolutely ESSENTIAL, regardless of all other criteria, it must be reliable and get you to your destinations and back every time. Without any unnecessary concern or anxiety on your part. What makes it reliable; you do. In recent years, vehicles and most all manufacturers developed into dependable transportation sources. We all have our favorites, even the best and most expensive won’t be dependable if you don’t take care of it. Many people are resourceful and are competent to do it themselves others depend on trusted, hard to find, mechanics. Of course this is your choice, but one you have to make. So, plan on it, budget for it, and just keep doing it and it won’t let you down or those valued clients.
SUV Most Popular; Trucks Work Too
What kind of vehicle is needed? An 18-wheeler, not likely, but we all can dream of having that need. Step van, maybe for some, with large demands and plans. Based on my observations, a SUV may be the most practical and most commonly used. SUVs can protect some of the more sensitive (to temperature) UAS equipment, batteries and maybe IPads, by everything being in a controlled environment. This is a really good thing here in New Mexico where it can be too hot or too cold to inspect a cell towers, for example, without using precautions regarding the weather. SUVs can provide a very reasonable amount of space for several drones, spare equipment, chargers; cameras and the like to meet most all UAS job requirements. Unfortunately, in my case, I have a pick up truck only because I already owned it, prior to my drone business, and it has proven to be very reliable and much more capable, than its driver, to get me to any location.
Even the Best Equipped can Get Stuck
Luckily, my truck is equipped to handle most any road, trail, or terrain to get to the more remote locations. In my fifteen years as a consultant on cell towers for many Cities and Counties throughout New Mexico I am glad to have it. Otherwise I might still be out in the desert. No worries. If things do go bad, your cell phone should work. Granted not all cell towers are remotely located, most are not, but it is not uncommon to be located on the highest hill where roads are bad, maybe washed out with large and sharp rocks that are tough on tires. Not to mention your back, neck and head, against the window or frame, as you proceed carefully with your seatbelt fastened very snug. I have gotten stuck on a relatively flat area, tower just off the interstate, in a washout, while in 4-wheel drive. A quick fix, just flip on the lockers and you’re out, can’t turn, but you’re out. Not everyone has lockers, but they are much more common than you think, especially in the Jeeps. By the way, I do have a winch, and what a great tool to have. It is great insurance, as I have never used it to get me out of trouble. Others have used theirs to get me out of trouble (snow too deep) but I have never used mine.
What else might be needed in a successful UAS (drone) business support vehicle? Again, I may go a little overboard, but it is good to be prepared, just in case. Consider the following items: jumper battery (better than cables,) air compressor (runs my lockers and inflates tires,) fire extinguisher, shovel, axe, large jack, winch, off-road bumpers, complete protection underneath, rock sliders (under the doors, some think they are steps,) off-road tires (pain in the butt, noisy and ruins gas mileage, but essential,) emergency generator (re-charges batteries on those long days in the wilds, inspecting large solar farms, wind farms or many cell tower sites,) battery chargers (for all the different types of batteries you may use,) safety equipment (first aide kit, flashing lights, traffic cones, safety helmet, safety vests, and safety shoes, all of which are needed for most all utility inspection work,) spare fuel, and most important here in the New Mexico desert; WATER, sunscreen and snacks.
To Market or Not?
We established that a good vehicle, well equipped and reliable, is essential to the operational life of a drone pilot. So, should it be or become a marketing tool? This is a very difficult question that happens to be the primary motivator for writing this blog. I spent entirely too much time thinking and evaluating the options, that are way to numerous. Ponder this food for thought:
If you are well-established, successful drone pilot and have to fend off clients because of your reputation for quality work, that we all strive to achieve, then your answer is simple; definitely not required. But, it might be helpful in keeping your business on top. On the other hand, those just getting out of the gate and still having time to grow and expand their business might apply some serious thought and consideration to the potentially great marketing tool you drive daily. Consider that a vehicle can be seen by as many as 70,000 (used commonly & obviously in larger metro areas) times a day could prove useful and productive. So what should you do?
Budget, Plan & Decide
it is a budget thing. Given unlimited resources that my wife won’t give me, a well-designed full wrap is probably the most cost effective solution. Make certain that the designer, if not you, understands what your business is and the primary role that your drones, photography (hard to do video, which is probably illegal anyway) and graphics will attract the correct attention to your vehicle and its messages. Make certain regardless, that it can be read from a distance. A rule of thumb is 1” for every 10’ of distance from the lettering to keep it visible. 3” is visible from 30’. Hopefully, by the time your wrap wears out, and they will; plan on 5 years, you may not need it or may choose not to install it on your new vehicle. But, make your own decision there are many resources on this subject. Don’t forget your vehicle will be moving, assuming you’ve kept it well maintained.
The (Taco) Tacoma Evolution
Again, in my case, seems I am always a little different. Honestly, I had reservations for two reasons: 1) security and 2) some companies, if you sub-contract, may not want you to promote your own company. Security was my biggest concern. Not all cell towers, infrastructure, etc. are located in the nicest parts of town and specifically Albuquerque does not have the best reputation related to car thefts. So why advertise I may have something of value? Caution, alarms, surveillance, concealed carry and insurance can eliminate these concerns.
But, I did know and understand, based on my uniquely designed vehicle from its outset, always received lots of attention and questions. I believe that my choice to do the same for my UAS business vehicle will have the same affect, if not greater. A quick funny story, after getting my white truck, common in New Mexico, I went to pick up my wife from work on a rare cold day here in Albuquerque. She exited her warm surroundings six (6) times to get in with other guys, before I showed up in my very common plain looking truck. For my next birthday, she said make your truck unique. Boy is it! My opinion; I have not seen another like it. Anyway, I am in the final stages of getting the signage and graphics designed for my truck. It should be completed in the next few weeks. I will keep you posted.