The growth in popularity and usage of drones is astounding. New drone technologies, new applications for their use and new regulations regarding their use are all on the rise.
In this article we take a look at the topic from several perspectives, with the goal of equipping the first-time drone buyer with more knowledge than he/she previously possessed to make this purchase.
The Best Drone For You
Drones are also referred to as UAVs – Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. So, what this means is that this is a gadget that flies in the air and does not need a pilot “onboard”. There are places in the world where is it extremely risky for humans to go, on foot and otherwise.
The best way to explore, monitor or survey those places is using drones. Used mainly for military operations when they came into being, drones are now used for many commercial and recreational purposes as well. Here is a brief history of drones.
An Introduction and Brief History of Drones
If you go by the pure definition of UAVs, Austrian Balloons were the first flying weapons used for fighting wars without a pilot on them. As for modern drones, CIA used the first drone in 2002 for a targeted operation.
The operation took place in Afghanistan to take down Osama Bin Laden. However, these drones had been up in the sky surveying the mountainous landscapes of Afghanistan since 2000.
As for quadcopters, the small sized drones with 4 rotor blades, the first stable flight was made in 1920. This quadcopter, called the Oehmichen No. 2, was able to make a stable flight to cover a distance of nearly 400 yards.
The second big entry in the history of quadcopters was the Flying Octopus. This flying machine had more rotor blades, but the mechanical complexity of making such machines kept this proven concept shut away from general public.
Quadcopters are also called quadrotors. The four rotors on the machine spin at different speeds allowing it to lift off the ground, turn in desired directions and move with certain speeds.
Two out of the four rotors on a quadrotor are set to spin in a clockwise direction while the other two spin counter-clockwise. The main components that are used for making a quadcopter are as follows:
- Receiver & transmitter
- Electronic speed controller
- Control board
If you take a look around and observe, you still do not find any examples of pure quadcopters flown by humans. Chinook is very close to being a reflection of the actual concept of human flying machines with multiple rotors, but it’s not the perfect rendition.
To put an end to this disappointment, humans have achieved quite a lot when it comes to UAVs or drones or unmanned quadcopters. You can go online and purchase a basic quadcopter for less than $50 easily today.
Quadcopters are fast becoming a part of people’s lives and a commonplace thing in developed countries like the US, UK, Germany, etc. Moreover, there are is a plethora of applications for a commercially usable drone.
From surveying far-away lands, inspect volcanoes from unbelievably close distances; take breathtaking views of nature for movies and documentaries and what not. There are many different types of drones based on the purpose they are used for and how they function.
A Breakdown of Types of Drones by Function and Purpose
Drones have given people endless possibilities as to how they can use them. From military to recreational purposes, drones are even changing the way retail businesses deliver goods to their customers.
The Healthcare industry is no exception as there are drones helping deliver blood to remote and deprived areas in Africa to help pregnant mothers with deliveries.
To know the different types of drones, it is best to split them based on their functions and the purposes they are used for. Let’s take a look at both.
Drones by Function
· Fixed Wing Drones
As the name suggests, fixed wing drones are a completely different breed of drones from quadcopters. They are small in size but look just like airplanes. As there are no rotors on this type of drones, they cannot hover/suspend in their air like drones with rotors.
They have to keep flying to beat the gravity for as long as the battery allows them to. There are gas powered fixed wing drones as well and their main advantage is that they can keep flying for several hours. These drones are great for surveillance but unfit for photography. How can you take great photos when the drone wouldn’t stay in one place?
· Multiple Rotor Drones
As you may have guessed already, quadcopters belong to this breed of drones. It will not be wrong to say that these are the most popular drones in the world today.
People love them for their professional and recreational applications.
These drones are the perfect pick for someone who is looking to do some awesome photography.
Companies that sell them have segmented them for professionals and hobbyists. If you are looking for best drones for beginners, you can go for a multi-rotor drone for as low as $50. The expensive ones designed for professionals can be over $500 easily.
· Single Rotor Drones
You won’t see these drones because they are not very common. In shape and form, you could say they are miniature helicopters. Just like a helicopter this drone has a big top and a small tail rotor. The main reason why you would want to buy single rotor drones is efficiency.
With a same sized battery, you can get more flying time with a single rotor drone than you would get with a multi-rotor drone. Manufacturing these drones can be very expensive because of the complexity involved in their structure.
Another reason to avoid these types of drones is their large sized top rotor. The blades could cause debilitating injuries in case of an accident.
· Hybrid Drones
If you like the fact that quadcopters can hover in the air, but prefer the flying time of a fixed wing drone, these hybrid machines are made for you. This is one of the most difficult ones to put together.
Modern gyroscopic technology and accelerometers have finally made it possible to have hybrid UAVs. Since they combine the best of both the worlds, hybrid drones are the best drones you can get in terms of maneuverability, efficiency, stability and esthetics.
Drones by Purpose
· Drones for Video Photography
A drone with camera is “a dream come” true for photographers. These drones are used not only for taking still pictures but immaculate video footage as well. Once again, the market offers basic and professional versions of these drones.
A beginner can look for the best drones under $100 with basic functionalities and limited functions. These drones will have a basic camera e.g. a 2MP, a range of around 100-200m and flying time around 10 minutes with one charge. Some good examples include JXD 509, Hubsan X4 and UDI U818 HD+.
To get enhanced specifications, you will have to look at the best drones under $200. These drones will have HD or full HD cameras without any good stabilization, a range of 500m or more and an average flying time of around 10 minutes. MJX Bugs 3, Holy Stone HS300 and AEE AP9 are some good examples of these drones.
As for professional photography, SYMA X8G is considered the cheapest drone for GoPro, but it has a very short range of just 100m. The honor of being one of the best drones for GoPro Hero 5 has been given to 3DR Solo Quadcopter, not only for its compatibility with GoPro cameras, but for gaming style controller and one-touch landing, taking off and pause controls too.
· Drones for Recreation
When it comes to drones for recreation, quadcopters take the cake again. They are easy to control and their stability in the air makes them the best drones for beginners. New pilots must always learn to control these drones first and understand the importance of line-of-sight while flying drones. It is best to fly recreational drones in open areas and below an altitude of 400ft.
The best time to fly drones for recreational purposes is during the day. Airports authorities have to be informed if you are within a 5-mile radius of the airport. Hubsan X4 H107L, Axis Turbo-X, Odyssey Toys X-7 Microlite, etc. are some great toy drones for beginners. Most recreational drones have a maximum speed of 15MPH or lower.
· Drones for Racing
If you are the adventurous type, you might want to give racing drones a try. They are a lot of fun and they give you the chance to be a part of various exciting sports events with drone racing as part of them.
Drone racing is often referred to as FPV racing where FPV stands for first person view. Racing drones are very different from drones with cameras as the main aim here is speed.
Drone racing can be quite a way for youngsters to make money. Just recently a boy aged only 15 years was able to take away $250,000 by winning a drone racing competition in Dubai. FPV racers don’t often buy drones from stores.
Some level of personalization and DIY input is required to make drones fast enough for racing. Some of the fastest drones fit for FPV racing are Arris FPV250 BNF, RISE Vusion 250, Walkera F210 Professional Racer and Blade Mach 25 FPV.
Drone racing is now a fast growing sport being televised by some big channels such as ESPN. One of the main features you have to be looking for in FPV racing drones is reparability – the faster you can repair them the more convenient it will be when you are out in the field.
· Drones for Surveillance
These drones are very common today because they provide law enforcement agencies with clearer surveillance and more power and efficiency when faced with emergencies.
Think of a large protest of thousands of people. Surveilling such a huge crowd is impossible from the ground level. The use of surveillance drones is even beyond this.
Government and wildlife organizations are using surveillance drones in wildlife sanctuaries to keep an eye on the poachers and hunters. But they can use helicopters for the same jobs right?
No, helicopters are noisy, killing the element of surprise in many situations. Not to mention drones are a much cost-effective surveillance solution. DJI Phantom 3 Professional and Yuneec Q500 4K Typhoon are great examples of surveillance drones.
The main factors to consider when buying surveillance drones are flight time, camera, stability and range.
· Drones for Supply Chain
Retailer businesses are looking to use drones for delivering small to mid-sized items to customers in the US. Of course, doing so has its challenges. Drones are a part of the air traffic and as the traffic volume increases, the risks of accidents will also increase.
Imagine a 12-ounce wrist watch package falling on someone’s head. From a height of 100 meters it could be devastating and could result in serious brain injuries. Keep in mind that the likes of Amazon are considering building drones that could carry up to 25kg packages.
The intricacies of air traffic control are another big issue. While a height of 400ft is not a problem for airplanes in general, it can be a serious issue in areas near airports.
Furthermore, a bigger challenge for delivering items through drones is that the companies are looking to fly automatic drones i.e. drones that don’t need a human pilot with an RC. This puts the case of delivering items using drones in the same basket as automatic/driverless cars.
· Drones for Agriculture
Drones can be a huge revolutionary change in the agricultural field. Farmers will be able to use drones in their fields not only for surveillance purposes, but to plant new crops and spraying pesticides on them. Field analysis and irrigation are other tasks that drones can do when used in agriculture.
· Drones with Special Features
While this is not a specific category, a special mention is definitely needed for these amazing gadgets. SARAH20, QuadH20 and HEXH20 are prime examples of drones with special features. These drones are waterproof taking drone GoPro sensation to a new level.
Furthermore, many companies are now making accessories that could be added to your drones to make them land on water.
WaterStrider for Phantom 3 and 4 drones is a great example of such accessory.
While creating these pieces of equipment, the top concerns for manufacturers are flight time and maneuverability.
Drone Brands – Who’s Making These Airborne Mechanical Birds?
When you look at the countries that are making the most drones, there is no doubt that China has left every other country behind. Some of the biggest names in drone industry belong to China.
Not only are these companies making drones, but are also serving as a source for drone parts and supplies. When you are looking at companies that are known around the world for making drones, here are the best ones you need to know about.
The Companies That Do It All
· DJI Innovations
As you would expect, this is a Chinese company and one of the leaders in designing and developing not only drones, but a plethora of drone accessories as well. One of their most reputable and respectable contribution to the industry is the Phantom lineup of drones.
The Phantom 3 is known as one of the best quadcopters in the market – designed to be ready to fly right out as soon as you unbox it. It even has a camera on it for out of the box video recording. Being the biggest drone manufacturer, DJI has nearly 70% of the share in global drone market.
This is a French company and possibly one of the newest to enter the market. However, with their AR. Drone quadcopter, they have made a big name in the consumer drone market.
They even make advanced drones for professionals and their Bebop 2 qualifies for this category.
Another company with its headquarters in China, but they have their offices in many other countries including the US. They are also the pioneers of trendy and unconventional flying drones, which they made the first of in 2014.
The primary accessories they manufacture for drones include action cams, transmitters, FPV goggles, flight simulators, etc.
Horizon Hobby owns Blade. Blade is one of the best companies when it comes to the quadcopter industry. They are known among enthusiasts for making drone-flying easy. Beginners love their products because they are easy to handle. In fact, Blade Nano QX made by the company is known as one of the best drones for beginners.
Other big names in the industry that manufacture variety of drones drone accessories and spare parts include JJRC, SYMA, Ambarella, Boeing, AeroVironment, and Northrop Grumman Corporation.
The Companies That Develops Great Accessories
One of the things that you will have to deal with when it comes to flying drones is buying extra parts. Sometimes you need these parts because you want to add some additional functionality to your drone and at other times, you just want better performance.
The best way of buying affordable parts and accessories is to go for third-parties. Since drones have many different parts and components that make them, you will find that there is leader in every different category of drone components and accessories.
· For Gimbals
Gimbal is a component that enables you to take great videos and pictures using your drones. You just cannot imagine high quality photography with your drones unless you have the right gimbal installed on it.
While most companies that make drones with cameras also make design the gimbals, you can find some from third-party companies as well. Some of the best gimbals for your drone cameras come from Walkera, Andoer, Feiyu Tech, 3DR, and Tarot.
When looking for a Gimbal you have to first make up your mind whether you want a 2-axis or 3-axis gimbal.
· Drone Tracker
One of the common problems you will come across when you have just learned to fly drones is losing them. When you are in a place where there are a lot of trees, it can become nearly impossible to find your drone.
This is where a good drone-tracker will help you. When looking for the best trackers for drones, some good options include Trackimo and Flytrex.
· FPV Goggles
If you want to be a part of the surreal flying experience and feel like it is not the drone, but you flying in the air, you have to get your hands on the FPV goggles. With FPV goggles, you are truly in the shoes of a pilot or maybe having an even more pleasing experience since there is considerably less risk.
When it comes to goggles for FPV racing, it is hard to beat Fat Shark. Other great companies with appreciable equipment include Flysight and Avegant. Always ensure your FPV goggles have streamlined connectivity to steer clear of video latency.
The Makers of the Best Drone Kits
Not every person is an admirer of out-of-the-box flying drones. Some people like it better when they can make their own drones because they like things their way. For some, they start flying ready-made drones, but soon get bored with the monotony of design and flying experience.
That’s when they go for DIY drone kits i.e. they buy all the parts and components separately, and build their own drones. Here are 3 of the best drone kits available on the market.
· DJI F450 Flame Wheel ARF Kit
The first thing you have to keep in mind is that this is a kit series, not just one kit. What this means is that it is available at different prices depending on how many features and options you want on your final product.
The base version of this kit can be found at slightly over $300, but the one with most advanced options can be easily touch $1000. Keep in mind you will reach this price mark when you’ve added all the components including the flight controller, battery, transmitter and receiver.
· Erle-Copter Drone Kit
This kit is made by Erle Robotics and is a mid-range drone kit for first time drone builders. The drone that you build with this kit will have a flight time of nearly 20 minutes.
It does not come with a stand or legs, so it would be best to install the legs on it if you are looking to incorporate a gimbal as well. The kit is easily available around $500. The good thing is that it comes with a battery, radio controller and even a charger.
· IFlight ZMR180 Racing DIY Quadcopter Kit
This particular drone kit is best for people who have some knowledge of electronics. You could put any motor you want on this drone. The drone you build with it will be one of the lightest on the market because it is made of carbon fiber.
You have to be a fan of small sized drones if you want to buy this kit. Small drones basically measure up to 4 or 5 inches in length. You will have to spend some time putting it together because it does not come assembled like the Erle-Copter drone kit.
How to Go from a Beginner to Professional Drone Pilot
When you buy your first drone, you are not expected to know much about it. A beginner level drone has basic options and is very easy to fly. If you do some research you will find that the higher the price goes, the harder it becomes to fly the drone.
What it means is that advanced drones are made for professionals who are expected to know all about them. Beginner drones can be under $200 whereas professional drones can be easily over $2000.
Once you have flown a few beginner level drones, you will have the required knowledge and experience to start building your own drone using kits and customizable components.
You can categories the know-how need to build a drone, which is; having a good idea all the parts required to build the drone and knowing all the steps. When it comes to parts, here are the main components you will need to build your own drone:
- Electronic speed controls
- Mounting pad
- Battery monitors
- RC receiver
- SD Card
- USB Key
- Zip ties
- Wire cables
- Battery charger
- Silicone wires
- 3M command strips
- Compound for thread locking
For a more advanced drone you might go for even more components and accessories. However, it is best that you start at a basic level and then move ahead from there. As for the steps necessary to build your own drone, here is what you have to do.
- Build the frame
- Get the right sized motors, ESCs and propellers
- Put the motors in assembly
- Putting ESCs on the bottom of the frame
- Build the landing gear
- Build your own or buy a pre-made flight controller
- Pick the right remote control
- Put the flight controller onto the drone
- Connect flight controllers and ESCs
- Check every function
- Go for a test flight
Lastly, be a part of the online community of drone enthusiast. This will serve as the best place for you to learn about drones.