enterprise drones

Why are enterprise drones so much more expensive than their consumer-oriented counterparts?

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who isn’t at least a teensy bit impressed by the DJI Mavic 2 Pro. It’s swoon-worthy for drone nerds and cinematography nerds alike, thanks mostly to its Hasselblad camera and 1-inch CMOS sensor and F\2.8 EQV 28mm lens, capable of capturing 4K video and 12MP images.  All that and more costs just $1,599.

So then why is its enterprise-oriented counterpart, the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced, $6,500 more? Most drone companies these days are making both consumer and enterprise drones. And this scenario, where the enterprise version is more than 4x more expensive than the consumer version, is far from uncommon.

Why there is such a huge price gap between the consumer/prosumer drones and enterprise models?

DJI Mavic 2 Zoom Hasselblad

Comparisons of popular consumer vs enterprise drones

Enterprise drones do have plenty of features that their consumer counterparts don’t have. You might find real-time kinematic positioning (RTK), which is a satellite navigation technique used to enhance positioning precision in enterprise drones that you won’t find in the consumer counterpart. And while most consumer drones only have standard visual cameras, the enterprise version might have a thermal or zoom camera.

Here are some of the biggest diferences in popular consumer vs their enterprise siblings:

The Skydio X2 (left) and Skydio 2 (right)

Skydio

American drone maker Skydio is famous for its nearly crash-proof drones, which have sensors on all sides for obstacle detection and avoidance. The Silicon Valley-based company sells its Skydio 2 drone for $1,349. The enterprise edition, Skydio X2, costs $11,000. Here’s what you get for that price difference:

Skydio 2Skydio X2
Price$1,349$11,000
Camera4k60 HDR4K60P HDR color + FLIR® 320p thermal
Flight time23 minutes35 minutes
Wireless range200m to phone
1.5 km to beacon
3.5 km to controller
6km (5GHz) or
10km (1.8GHz)
ControllerUse your own smart device, or upgrade to the controller ($179) or Beacon ($219)Enterprise Controller (included)
ProcessorNVIDIA Tegra X2 SOCNVIDIA Tegra X2 SOC

Among the biggest upgrades you’ll find in the Skydio X2 that don’t exist in the Skydio 2 is the color/thermal camera. The camera includes a FLIR® Boson 320 x 256 with 8x digital zoom.

And while Skydio drones are crash-proof thanks to the obstacle avoidance sensors, this one is capable of precise flight even with obstacle avoidance disabled, thanks to precision GPS and inertial navigation.

Other bonus features on the X2 include strobing lights, which you can toggle between on or off in both in white visible light and infrared wavelength.

And the Enterprise version also has an Enterprise Controller with a 6.8” ultra-bright AMOLED touchscreen and USB-C 3.1 with HDMI-out support.

buy enterprise drones directly from DJI
A Mavic 2 Enterprise drone from Chinese drone maker DJI

DJI

Over at DJI, perhaps the two easiest drones to compare are the Mavic 2 Pro versus the Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced.

American drone maker Skydio is famous for its nearly crash-proof drones, which have sensors on all sides for obstacle detection and avoidance. The Silicon Valley-based company sells its Skydio 2 drone for $1,349. The enterprise edition, Skydio X2, costs $11,000. Here’s what you get for that price difference:

Mavic 2 ProMavic 2 Enterprise Advanced
Price$1,599$6,500
Camera4K with 1” CMOSThermal Camera: 640 × 512 px, 30 Hz Frame Rate, 16× Zoom
Visual Camera: 48MP, 1/2″ CMOS Sensor
and 32× Digital Zoom
Flight time31 minutes31 minutes
RTK?NoYes

The Enterprise Advanced has standout features over the Mavic 2 Pro, most notably, its thermal camera and RTK module. The DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced has not one camera like the Pro, but two: a visual camera and a thermal camera (similar to the Mavic 2 Enterprise Dual, designed in partnership with FLIR).

The thermal camera entails HD 640 × 512 px thermal resolution with a a 30Hz frame rate, allows for ±2°C temperature measurement accuracy and has 16x thermal zoom. Meanwhile, the visual camera shoots 48MP with a 1/2” CMOS sensor and is capable of 32x digital zoom. Another important feature for enterprise operation is RTK, a satellite navigation technique that is a must-have for use-cases like precision mapping that require centimeter-level precision.

Situation where the enterprise drones are imperative

For some use cases, it’s obvious where the enterprise version is imperative. If you work in industrial inspections, then centimeter-level positioning accuracy could be make or break. First responders might require thermal cameras to do their work.

But those aren’t the only reasons to consider the enterprise version.

Security

Many of the enterprise versions also have additional security features. The Skydio X2 is National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) compliant and was even selected as U.S. DoD Blue sUAS trusted platform, thanks to features including signed and encrypted vehicle firmware, an encrypted hard drive, password protection for the controller, and data link encryption.

Data security has been especially important as of late, given recent concerns that Chinese tech companies (which includes DJI) may be sending sensitive drone data to the Chinese government. The Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced takes extra steps to mitigate those risks with features including Local Data Mode, which stop the DJI App from sending or receiving any data over the internet. Then, the radio link between the aircraft and remote controller features AES-256 encryption. Plus, the controller incorporates 24 GB of onboard data storage and password protection, which DJI says protects the data even if the drone is physically compromised.

That continues DJI’s foray into other, theoretically more secure drones. DJI in 2019 announced the DJI Government Edition drone, intended for use use in high-security situations by government agencies around the world. Features include no data transmission, firmware update reviews and restricted hardware pairing.

What causes the price gap?

The tables above indicate that specs have a lot to do with it. Minor technical improvements can have a huge impact for some businesses. While your average consumer looking to photos o their beach vacation might not be willing to pay a premium for multi-kilometer wireless range, a business conducting inspections of oil pipelines would find those kinds of specs imperative.

For businesses where data security is highly important, paying that kind of premium is easily worth it.

But the specs aren’t the only reason why you might see such a giant price gap between consumer versus enterprise drones.

Businesses aren’t as price-sensitive as consumers: One of the most straightforward answers of why drones charge more for enterprise versions of their products: they can.

It’s a trend seen in more than just the drone industry. For example, look to the airlines. Business travelers account for 12% percent of airlines’ passengers, but they are typically twice as lucrative – accounting for as much as 75% of profits. That’s because business travelers are more likely to book refundable (and more expensive) fares, as well as upgrade to first class seats. Business and first class seats typically cost three to four times the cost of a coach seat. You’d have to drink a lot of champagne to make up for that price difference. Airlines are pocketing most of that revenue.

In some capacities, the industries that use enterprise drones are used to paying higher prices (and can afford it). Drone manufactures are taking advantage of that.

Branding: And sometimes, it just comes down to branding. If you’re a cinematographer who sweats by Sony’s cameras, then you might already be willing to pay $9,000 for the Sony Airpeak S1 drone — even though the camera isn’t even included — just because you know and trust the brand. Is a treadmill any different at Equinox versus Planet Fitness? The treadmill itself likely isn’t, but the brand, aura and atmosphere around it might be. Likewise, flying a Sony drone might be worth it just because it’s Sony.

Sony Airpeak S1 drone
The $9,000 Sony Airpeak S1 drone (camera not included).

DJI enterprise drones are now easier to get your hands on

One recent and notable development when it comes to DJI enterprise drones: you can now buy DJI enterprise drones online, directly from DJI. Up until early 2021, enterprise-level drones generally could only be purchased through DJI’s network of licensed dealers. That news comes with pros and cons, with some cons being that you might not get the same level of service and support that you could generally expect from dealers should you choose to buy from DJI. It also means dealers can no longer offer you discounts, as they once may have.

But the good news is that pricing for enterprise drones is now much more transparent, and you can better guarantee you’re not getting the same price as everyone else.

The good news for small businesses on a budget

In many situations, you don’t need to get suckered into paying the markup for enterprise versions of drones. For example, perhaps you’re setting up photogrammetry projects using Pix4DCapture, a drone flight planning app for 3D mapping and modeling. Not only is Pix4D Capture compatible with high-end DJI drones like the $6,000 Matrice 210, but it’s also compatible with super-entry level drones like the DJI Spark.

In many cases, you don’t need to budget thousands of dollars for a drone for your own business. Highly-specialized, high-end businesses will need drones with more advanced capabilities, but those businesses know what they are. For many small business owners, the consumer-grade drones are often sufficient.

Do you agree? Can many small business owners get away with purchasing consumer quality drones, or is it almost always a better idea to get the enterprise version?

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