There are a myriad of reasons as to why you would want to buy a drone — with the right drone, you have the ability to take unique photographs from unprecedented perspectives, record smooth aerial footage that you cannot get without the mobility of a drone, as well as enjoy the technical and potentially educational purpose of a drone.
However, for the uninitiated, the sheer variety and types of drones can be intimidating. There are helicopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, octocopters, and several types of aerial platforms. The legality of commercial and hobby drone flyers also adds to the confusion. Here are the different types of drones:
Helicopters can actually be defined as a type of drone. As long as it is unmanned, it can fall under the definition of a drone. While most personal drones are in the design of a quadcopter, helicopters may be easier to fly and requires less energy. That means that they tend to last longer in the air and between charges. However, it’s worth noting the helicopter drones may lack some of the more advanced features that a quadcopters drone may have like the ability to automatically return to a starting position or the person holding the controller.
One differentiating factors between drones in the design of a quadcopter and helicopter is stability. While quadcopters can be more stable, you will need to control each of the blades individually to maneuver it. It can be a bit difficult to control, especially for novice flyers. Durability may also be an issue. With the helicopter, there are less moving parts within the blade. But with quadcopters, there are more moving parts and the durability may be an issue if not properly maintained.
Regardless if you are choosing a more traditional helicopter or a drone, they are both fun and offer an immersive experience.
A tricopter uses three rotors, which help generate buoyancy and offers movement and control. While most tricopters are designed to have their motors 120° to each other, some may come in the form of a “T.” A tricopter is designed with one servo and several gyros.
If you have paid close attention to drone flying industry, you may notice that it doesn’t seem to be a lot of drones in the form of a tricopter. While the four motor design is much more popular than other types of drones, a tricopters seems to be a bit mysterious while still being a niche favorite. Tricopters are akin to a Chinook helicopter, where a rotor offers stability, another provides agility, and then the third rotor extends directional force.
Also, the tricopters is the least complicated version of drones. The functions are simple, and in many cases, a tricopter makes a great entry-level drone, especially for younger kids and hobbyists. They are easy to build, maintain, and repair. Tricopters are much more affordable than quadcopters or other drones designed with several motors.
Quadcopters are drones that are fixed with four motors. Drones can fly autonomously with the help of waypoint navigation, flying in a direction going from point a to point B. The controller sends information to the motors pertaining to thrust, revolutions per minute, and the direction. The controller will also control the quadcopter’s gyro and interpret GPS data.
Quadcopters controls are a bit more involved, but with experience, it will be a lot more automatic and intuitive. When flying quadcopters, it’s important to push directional buttons gently. Depending on the manufacturer, the controllers are pressure sensitive, where if you were to push on the stick harder, the stronger your quadcopters will move in that direction. Many first-time owners of quadcopters tend to be a bit overzealous, pressing heavily into their controls.
The four main controls of a quadcopter are the roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle. The roll controls whether your quadcopters moves to the left or right, while the pitch controls the tilt of the copter, and the yaw will move the quadcopters counterclockwise or clockwise. Then the throttle is what propels the quadcopters to get airborne.
While the quadcopters are usually the go-to drone for most enthusiasts, there is a niche for drones that are fixed with even more rotors. The hexacopters can take stunning pictures and is better at gathering still images. Hexacopters are also built to carry weight and are so stable that they can reduce the many vibrations that tend to cause blurry photos.
Hexacopters have six propellers, arranged in a circular fashion above the main body of the drone. They are designed to carry a camera and have two legs that look like skis. These skis allow the device to be stable when it lands. More rotors mean that there is better stability while in the air, as well as improved maneuverability. Many commercial-grade drones are hexacopters, due to the drone’s ability for precision movement. The additional rotors also allow the hexacopters to reach higher altitudes than a quadcopter or a helicopter.
The main advantage of a hexacopters is that it can keep flying even if one propeller fails. This safeguards the hexacopters. For example, if you’re using a hexacopters to carry precious cargo, then in the off chance that one of the rotors fail, you would know that it still had the ability to fly back to the platform, safely delivering the cargo and giving you the chance to troubleshoot your drone.
Octocopters showcase the cutting edge of drone technology. It has eight fully functioning propellers. It has more flight capability than all the other types of drones. It combines maneuverability with speed, and substantial uplift power. They are very stable even at high altitudes. This makes octocopters the ideal drone for professional use, with it finding home in movie sets for dynamic action shots when fixed with an appropriate camera. They are favored by professional videographers, movie producers, and explorers.
One of the main benefits of a hexacopters compared to the other types of drones is that it is swift. With eight spinning propellers, the drone can accelerate quickly. While fast, it does not sacrifice on control. The multiple motors allow the pilot to have complete control over their drone even at high speeds. A hexacopters is also designed to fly even in intermittent weather. A superb engine control allows it to be agile even at dizzying heights. Also, it can make sharp turns due to its many propellers.
However one of the downsides of an octocopters is that they can be rather large and are not appropriate for indoor use. They’re designed to carry and transport. Also keep in mind that they are expensive to build and maintenance is essential to safeguard your investment.
Types of Drones and Range
Drones are limited by the range of the controller and battery life. Other factors include the positioning of the controls, the type of antenna used, the power of the transmitter, any obstacles that are between you and your drone, interference, and the positioning of the antenna. For the best communication between your controller and your drone, there shouldn’t be any apparent obstacles like a tree or building. These blockades will block the radio frequencies and will either cause your drone to safely platform itself if the ability is baked into its firmware, or hover into the battery dies. High gain antennas will provide great range when flying directly in front of you, with most stock antenna behaving poorly when the drones flying directly overhead.
The frequency being used by the drone also has a massive effect on its range. The lower the frequency, the better the range. Most drones communicate with the controller within the 2.4 GHz and 5.8 GHz band. So unless you live in an area where there is a lot of interference from other electronic devices that emit or connect to the 2.4 GHz band, then it’s best to stick to that. If there’s a lot of radio interference, then you can hop onto the 5.8 GHz band for a better connection. However, keep in mind that you may be sacrificing range.
Hobby Drones vs. Commercial Drones
In certain industries, a drone can actually be an asset. It’s important however to recognize what constitutes recreational and commercial use of a drone.
For example, if you are flying your drone in your private property for your personal use, then you are considered a recreational drone user. However, if you decide to use that same drone to take photographs or video for money-making purposes, then you will be considered a commercial drone user.
The types of drones that you use for recreational or commercial use may be the same — there are no guidelines that constitute the type of drone they should be used for commercial use. However, most professional applications call for precision, and features that more affordable helicopters or quadcopters may not have. For professional use, the hexacopters and quadcopters are professional favorites. They combine extreme maneuverability, durability, and the ability to carry cargo, making them highly versatile.
If you’re going to use your current drone and start to make money with it, then there are certain rules that you would need to be aware of. Keep in mind that depending on your location and local jurisdiction, there might be universal rules you need to follow regardless if you’re using your drone for commercial or recreational use.
FAA Reauthorization Act
The FAA is the governing body when it comes to the airspace that your drone may occupy. In October 2018, the FAA introduced a myriad of new regulations for drone flyers, with new rules for people who fly small drones as a hobby.
Now the agency has put civil penalties and consequences for people who fly the drones into disaster areas or in scenarios where it might potentially interfere with law enforcement.
Do I need a license? If you fly outdoors for recreational purposes, then you will need to register your drone if it weighs more than .55 pound. You do not need to obtain a remote pilot license in accordance with the FAA if you are merely flying your drone for recreational purposes. Just remember to remain at least 5 miles away from airports, and your drone does not waive more than .55 pounds.
For commercial drone flyers, there is a bit of red tape that you will need to pass. First, you’ll need to register your drone and obtain certification for it. It is mainly needed for insurance. As a commercial drone flyer, you must also adhere to federal and state laws.
A fixed wing drone is not able to take off vertically. They are designed to take off almost like a traditional airline – with a runway long enough for it to get airborne.
Single rotor drones are designed with just that – a single rotor. They look and behave like a traditional helicopter.
A multi-rotor drone looks like what you may think a drone may look like. They are fixed with several rotors. They are ideal for short aerial shots. Remember, that due to its ability to consume energy, it may not be appropriate for long distance aerial shots.
The Future of Drones
The best drones combine durability, range, maneuverability, and speed. Thankfully the drone industry has matured, where all types of drones of various sizes and capabilities are fully capable of flying for a substantial amount of time with adequate control.
In the future, drones are going to be a lot more efficient and will be capable of doing a lot more. Today, many commercial drones are being used to transport goods to remote locations, for surveillance purposes. Large companies like Amazon are testing drones to help deliver packages as soon as possible to their customer base. In the future, you may witness even more companies investing in drones and utilizing them to augment the relationship that they have with their customers. Flight time will also extend exponentially. One of the main drawbacks is that your drone will have a relatively short battery, even the more expensive and feature-packed drone. Future drones will either be a lot more efficient with their battery usage, or be fixed with bigger batteries.