In Waypoint’s newest blog series, we interview commercial drone distributors from around the world to learn more about their drone businesses, what valuable insights they’ve learned from selling drones and other geospatial solutions and how they envision UAV technology changing the market in the coming years.
Thanks for chatting with Waypoint today, Vassilis, can you please tell our readers about GeoSense?
GeoSense is a company that deals with two main verticals. The first is land surveying equipment, such as GNS receivers and total stations, levers, red laser scanning systems and their corresponding software. The second is drones for professional applications, such as surveying and mapping, precision agriculture and asset inspection. We distribute most of the major brands, including senseFly fixed-wing drones.
We maintain a fleet of drones for training and service purposes that we make available to our customers.
What value, over and above selling these products themselves, would you say GeoSense provides to its customers?
We offer a civil aviation authority-certified drone training school for operators, and we maintain a fleet of drones for training and service purposes that we make available to our customers. This is especially helpful for big projects, when a lot of expertise is needed and when a job needs to follow local laws and regulations. Unfortunately, not all our customers have the proper authorizations when they take on a job, so they often come and ask us to fly for and train them.
We also do seminars on how to maximize outputs using drones for 3D mapping, inspection and precision agriculture. People know that we are the experts in this, so they keep asking us to provide educational and training materials, which we enjoy doing.
Does GeoSense also operate in regions outside of Greece?
We distribute products and provide our services mainly throughout Greece and Cyprus, but because of our expertise, and the fact that we’ve been in the market for so many years, we’ve also sold systems in the Balkans, in Turkey, even in Portugal some years ago, but mainly Greece and Cyprus.
How did GeoSense come about as a company?
We started back in 2002. At the time, we mainly focused on GIS. In 2004, we switched to selling products and started distributing for major brands. At that time, it was brands like Pentax, Thales-Maggelan equipment and other equipment for land surveyors.
In the early days, learning to fly the multi-rotor models was a challenge on its own!
When did you make the jump to drones?
I started flying different models in 2010. In the early days, learning to fly the multi-rotor models was a challenge on its own! Back then, it was great if the drone lasted five, six, or even seven minutes in the air! But that made me realize the potential of flying cameras and how drones had the potential to become the next big thing in mapping.
What made you believe that drones would be the “next big thing”?
I thought drones would boost productivity and efficiency, and that they would provide us with a much better perception of the risk associated when studying an area. In 2011, we met senseFly and I’ve been distributing their solutions ever since, among other brands.
Over the years, we’ve managed to educate our customers about state-of-the-art technologies, meaning that we have customers who started back in 2004 with equipment like total stations. Today, they operate drones for mapping and surveying.
Drones have become smarter, more efficient and more robust. I believe they’re here to stay.
What role do you feel GeoSense has played in growing the drone market in Greece?
To be honest with you, I think GeoSense established the market in Greece. Back in 2010, our competition was making fun of us for investigating the use of drones for mapping. They called them “fancy remote-control airplanes”! To be fair, drones weren’t as advanced as they are now. But now, I think it’s fair to say that we are the market leader in Greece for professional-grade drone systems.
How have drones evolved from when you first started selling them to now?
There is really no comparison. The only common thing is that they’re both flying, nothing else. Today, drone systems are more sophisticated. At the same time, they are much easier to operate and produce accurate deliverables with. Drones have become smarter, more efficient and more robust. I believe they’re here to stay.
What are some of the main benefits that drones have provided your customers specifically?
Efficiency—that’s probably the biggest benefit that drones have provided my customers. They used to have to walk around with a total station, GPS and measuring points. Then they needed to draw lines and it was all very labor-intensive, not to mention potentially dangerous depending on the site. Now, they just have a drone flying above, mapping everything.
Everything has become more efficient [with drones], their job is more efficient. Drones also help them take on jobs—like bigger projects—that they couldn’t before. For many, this has helped their businesses grow a lot faster.
Drones help support my customers’ decisions and help them evaluate the dozens of situations they face on a daily basis.
Field time is another example. Having people out in the field can cost a lot of money. Drones have helped my customers and their employees to reduce that field time.
And to finally answer your question, drones help support my customers’ decisions and help them evaluate the dozens of situations they face on a daily basis. For farmers, it could be something as important as what type of, or how much, fertilizer to use. Sure, they can go out and scout their fields. They might even get an idea of some specific points, but it can take a long time and the evaluation might not be entirely correct. Drones assist them with that decision with real and accurate data.
Do you have customers that are still skeptical of drones? And if so, why?
Yeah, in the beginning. For them, it was, you know, a black box, a high-tech gadget. We needed to help them understand first that these drones were tools, not gadgets. There was a real fear in moving toward and relying on something so high-tech. They thought it was so complicated, hard to operate and very delicate. But drones have become user-friendly.
…Most of [our customers] now operate more than one drone. That’s how much things have evolved. Once you show how the technology is going to save them time, money and provide better results, they’re no longer hesitant.
So, fears that could be applied to virtually any new technology?
For sure. Back then, and even now, customers needed to have solid proof of the capabilities and the return on their investment. I will tell you, back in 2011 when we started distributing drones, it took us two years to sell just one drone! We were driving around Greece demonstrating [drones], with real use cases, until the market finally caught up!
Did you ever get discouraged or feel like maybe you made the wrong decision to focus so heavily on drones?
No, but it was a hard start. I would say most of [our customers] now operate more than one drone. That’s how much things have evolved. Once you show how the technology is going to save them time, money and provide better results, they’re no longer hesitant. They become convinced about [a drone’s] effectiveness, its efficiency and its outputs. And that’s because we’re getting really good results in terms of accuracy and 3D reconstruction.
If you’re looking for a system to cover and map larger areas efficiently, then you go with a fixed-wing system.
You mentioned how GeoSense sells various types of drones. And, of course, we know that there are two main types of drones—fixed-wings, such as the senseFly eBee X, and quadcopters. In your experience, what are the pros and cons of these two types?
Well, it depends on the kind of business you’re doing. I mean, if you’re looking for a system to cover and map larger areas efficiently, then you go with a fixed-wing system. And if you hope to keep it for a long time, you go for a fixed-wing drone. If you’re on a low budget and the area you want to map is small, then go for a multi-rotor. But bear in mind that if it crashes, then you’re probably throwing it away. You might pay less up front but that’s the downside of multi-rotors—they are more susceptible to damage if something goes wrong.
In my opinion, and experience, if you are a drone operator or a drone service provider, you need both [fixed-wings and quadcopters].
I’m honest with my customers, though. I tell them that there are some kinds of projects that are difficult with a fixed-wing drone. For example, inspection jobs. I don’t recommend using fixed-wing drones for small inspection projects because of the multiple camera angles you need to capture the sides of buildings and objects. So, it depends on the business they’re running and the projects they’re doing. But, in my opinion, and experience, if you are a drone operator or a drone service provider, you need both [fixed-wing and quadcopters].
How do you see the drone industry evolving?
The biggest industry drawback today is not the technology but the regulatory framework. There is a need for a robust and secure universal framework for drone use, and we also need an effective and clear way to categorize that use, so that the specific functions of each drone allow it to operate in clearly defined situations or airspace. It will take some time, but we’ll get there.
…Study the drone, study the manual, and buy your drone from a specialized company because they can help you.
Do you have any advice for potential drone operators? What do they need to know in order to succeed?
I see a lot of bad practices, so I’m just going to focus on a few. First, I come across a lot of newcomers who go to a massive retailer to buy a drone. But massive or mainstream retailers often don’t have the required knowledge about the drone or know how to operate it safely. They just sell the drone and send the customer along their way. It’s just a matter of time until they have an accident. Then they come to us and want to know why their drone fell out of the sky. And when we check the logs, we see so many bad practices. So yeah, study the drone, study the manual, and buy your drone from a specialized company because they can help you.
Second, we see a lot of drone operators who pay little attention to regulations. They don’t register their drone, so if it’s involved in an accident no one can find the operator. That’s not safe, and the problem is that because of this attitude, regulation authorities impose stricter restrictions.
I suggest newcomers consult a specialized drone distributor. Don’t go to a mass retailer, they don’t know what they’re selling. Also, start by using the manual and listen to experienced people. If your budget is limited, make a small investment, buy some training courses and dedicate enough hours to get the basics nailed down.
Thank you so much for chatting with us today, Vassilis.
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