There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the Sensefly family of UAVs. Much of this is driven by a strong marketing campaign and Senseflys recent buyout by UAV pioneer Parrot. So does the Sensefly eBee live up to the hype?
SenseFly eBee Overview
For those of you that do not know the specs of the SenseFly eBee, here is a quick cheat sheet for you to get up to speed.
- Drone Type – Fixed Wing
- Price Tag – $25,000 – $27,000
- Camera– Sensefly’s WX 18.2 MP
- NDVI optional
- NiR optional
- LWIR optional
- Multi spectral imager
- Flight Time – 50 minutes
- Weight – 1.52 lbs
3 Reasons To Buy the SenseFly eBee
Ebee is the smallest fixed wing sUAS you will find with such an impressive list of capabilities. The hard side carrying case may even work as carry on luggage depending on your airline, it’s that compact! To achieve the level of performance the platform offers in a package with an all up weight well under 1000g is nothing short of remarkable. Many competitors offer equipment 2-3x the size of the eBee with similar capabilities. If you need a portable fixed wing sUAS for mapping, agriculture analysis, or aerial survey this is it. You can’t get any more portable than this.
The Sensefly eBee is a very simple drone. One motor, a small flight controller, and a single fixed position camera, all stuffed in a foam body. The simplicity of this system is beautiful. Nothing extra and very few failure points. The interchangeable camera options give it job flexibility while maintaining simplicity. It all packs up in a box a little larger than a briefcase and the software is simple enough that today’s tech savvy 7 year old could probably achieve decent results with no prior instruction. You make one purchase and all the thinking has been done for you. The cameras are already professionally modified for peak effectiveness, the flight controller is fully tuned and the app has been optimized. In a UAV world littered with partial solutions and build-it-yourself kits the eBee is refreshingly complete. The most important characteristic of a good tool is that it becomes a transparent part of accomplishing the job for which it is designed, the eBee is built to be that kind of tool.
Being hit in the head by a nerf ball going 80mph wouldn’t be fun, but it’s unlikely to cause any serious damage. The eBee has more in common with a nerf ball than it does with the stiff foam and carbon fiber airframes it competes with. At nearly half the weight of most competitors the ultra-light EPP foam system is about as safe as you can get. 1 small prop in the back of the plane is also safer than almost any conceivable alternative while maintaining efficiency. UAVs will always involve an element of risk, but the Sensefly eBee design minimizes those risks as effectively as possible.
Sounds great, did you buy one?
The short answer is no.
As you can see, there are some very compelling reasons to like the Sensefly eBee platform. However, there are some substantial drawbacks that have kept us from grabbing at our wallets.
Starting at $25,000 the eBee is far too expensive for what it offers. The software makes up half the cost but isn’t a substantial value add. With the rapid evolution of aerial mapping software we always recommend a subscription based payment structure. The drone could be built for under $1000, leaving us wondering why we should pay $20,000+ for software?
At this price and for these purposes the competition is strong. Competing Pix4d partner Delair Tech offers more than twice the performance with a similar software package. Their DT-18 gives up some of the safety and portability of the eBee in exchange for flight duration, speed, and stability. Little Smart Things offers an increase in image quality and performance with their Cumulus one package. And multirotor platforms from companies like Skyfish are capable of flight times and mapping coverage similar to the eBee.
Another large drawback is the 45 minute flight time. Flight time is the prime reason for choosing fixed wing UAVs over a quadcopter. But, in the case of the eBee, it’s only about 15-20% better than you can get with a DJI Matrice 100 with dual batteries. A quadcopter offers much more versatility which means there needs to be substantial flight time increases for a fixed wing to be the better option.
The problems continue for Sensefly with the combination of a lightweight design and a fixed camera mount. While flying wing designs fair better than most in windy conditions, this ultra light platform is going to have a tough time taking stable pictures in wind and turbulence. We have had successful mapping missions with a DJI Inspire in 30mph winds due to the gimbal stabilization of the camera … good luck doing that with your eBee.
Finally, Sensefly was recently bought by drone pioneer Parrot. It remains to be seen what impact the acquisition will have on Sensefly but Parrot has built a less than stellar reputation for customer service, a characteristic that simply can’t be tolerated in the commercial UAV space at this price point.