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Several types of drones are available today. But we can classify them into a few categories based on their design, how, and where they are applicable. Below are some common ways of classifying drones;
Table of contents:
- Commercial and Recreational Drones:
- Task-specific drones:
- What Is a Drone?
- What Are the Types of Drones?
- Commercial Drones and Recreational Drones:
- Design – Multi-Rotor, Fixed Wing, Single Rotor:
Commercial and Recreational Drones:
Commercial drones are those drones used primarily for work such as real estate. In comparison, recreational drones are mainly for fun.
These drones are designed for specific tasks such as surveying, agriculture, or monitoring.
In this group, we have multi-rotor drones, single rotor, and fixed-wing drones.
In this article, I have discussed each of these types in detail, their uses, pros and cons, and some examples from top drone manufacturing brands.
What Is a Drone?
Also known as a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle), a drone is an unmanned aircraft controlled remotely with a controller. Still, some of them can fly autonomously, more like self-driven cars.
The drone and the controller communicate through radio signals. Drones were first designed for carrying out military operations where humans can’t access, but they are now useful in several other sectors.
What Are the Types of Drones?
Based on the categories mentioned earlier, below are the most common types of drones.
- Commercial drones
- Recreational drones
- Multi-rotor drones
- Single rotor drones
- Fixed-wing drones
- Task-specific drones
Commercial Drones and Recreational Drones:
These are drones mainly used for fun, such as toy drones. They don’t usually have most of the advanced features, and they aren’t that expensive either.
You can find a toy drone for as little as $30, and most of them won’t cost more than $200.
Since they are only for playing around with, most of them are suitable for use indoors.
These drones are great for kids or for people who want to learn drone flying before moving on to more advanced and more expensive drones.
But once you’re more experienced in flying, you might want to get a better camera to enhance your drone photography skills. In such a case, you can find a beginner drone that’s also suitable for professionals.
Such drones are known as prosumer drones, and they cost anywhere between $500 and $2000. If you’re a serious hobbyist who wants to do more than just fly, then this type would be great.
Another form of a recreation drone would be the FPV racing drones. FPV racing is a relatively new sport that involves drones flying at very high speeds along pre-designed tracks.
Most FPV drones build their drones from scratch, but you can find companies selling ready-to-fly racing drones.
The cost of a racing drone ranges from $200 to $1000. And even though some people are making a career out of drone racing, it’s more of a fun sport for most drone enthusiasts.
Below are examples of recreational drones.
DJI Mavic Series:
The DJI Mavic drones are great prosumer drones. They are often small, easily portable, and they cost between $500 and $2000.
Mavic Mini managed a 2.7k video, which was great for hobbyist photographers and videographers, but the Mini 2 came with a 4K video resolution, which is suitable for most professional films.
Mavic Mini 2 is also great if you need a longer transmission since it manages up to 10 KM.
The DJI Mavic 2 Pro is perfect for those who practice professional aerial photography and videography.
ARRIS X-Speed Racing Drone:
If you’re looking for a ready-to-fly FPV racing drone, this ARRIS model would be great. It comes fully assembled, a 5.8 GHz transmission and a convenient remote.
It also costs $300, making it suitable for new drone racers who want to learn flying at top speeds before building a more customized drone.
These are the drones used for work. They come in different sizes, prices and are often fitted with sophisticated equipment to help them accomplish the tasks.
Some of the sectors that commercial drones are useful include aerial photography, real estate, inspection.
As drones become more useful in the industrial sector, some manufacturers are building drones specialized for certain tasks. That is, the drones come with software and hardware specifications for the task at hand.
For instance, to conduct an HVAC inspection, the drones can be fitted with thermal cameras. These are also known as task-specific drones. But this doesn’t mean that you can’t use any other drone for these tasks.
For instance, when it comes to cameras, some drones allow you to switch the cameras to thermal cameras or any other type based on the project you’re carrying out.
But a task-specific drone would offer the best results, it would be easier to customize, and it will have higher chances of achieving the industry-required accuracy. Below are some popular commercial/task-specific drones.
DJI Phantom 4 RTK – Surveying and Mapping:
RTK (Real Time kinematic) is a satellite-based navigation technique that helps improve the accuracy of the data you get from GLONASS and GPS.
DJI designed this drone for surveyors and mappers since their work relies on these systems’ accuracy, and the usual drone’s GPS is not always accurate.
While a regular drone’s GPS offers up to 5 meters accuracy, the RTK offers up to 5 centimeters.
Flyability Elios 2 – Indoor Inspection:
Due to GPS and other stability sensors, most drones aren’t suitable for being used indoors. Most of them crash into obstacles since even the obstacle-avoidance systems may not work as expected.
The Elios 2 is specifically designed for such applications since it’s in a protective cage.
It freely crashes into objects indoors without being destroyed, making it the best drone for inspecting underground pipe systems and other areas where a person or a regular drone can’t reach.
Parrot Bebop-Pro Thermal – Fire fighting:
When monitoring fires, or conducting search and rescue missions after a fire, a regular drone camera can’t do much. But a thermal camera will help identify people and objects in low-light conditions.
The Parrot Bebop-Pro comes with a thermal camera, and it has been used for various firefighting missions globally.
DJI Matrice Series – Construction:
Drones have become very useful in construction sites, where they help map the sites and monitor the progress.
They make it easier and faster to get updates. The DJI Matrice Series drones are great for construction applications since they have some of the best sensors, cameras, and they’re flexible.
You can switch the payload based on the project without losing the other functionalities of the drone.
DJI Matrice drones are also popular in the filming and photography sector due to their payload capacity.
DJI AGRAS T20 and Parrot Bluegrass – Agriculture:
DJI and Parrot are some of the leading manufacturers of commercial, recreational, and task-specific drones. That’s why their drones will appear in most categories.
The AGRAS T20 is the ultimate agriculture drone, thanks to the larger payload capacity (20 kg) that makes it suitable for spraying on the farm.
It also has a good nozzle distribution and a 7 meters spray width, which ensures it sprays evenly and across a larger area at a time.
It can also fly autonomously thanks to the obstacle-avoidance systems and the RTK integration.
The Parrot Bluegrass, on the other hand, is perfect for detecting problems in crop fields since it has a multispectral (4 bands) sensor.
Crops reflect and absorb light differently when suffering from different diseases, making it easier to distinguish what the plant is suffering from.
Design – Multi-Rotor, Fixed Wing, Single Rotor:
This is a straightforward category since it refers to a drone’s method of lift-off.
This is the most common type of drone in this category. And even when most people are referring to drones, they’re often referring to this type.
They are often cheaper, easier to manufacture, and easier to fly. Quadcopters (drones with 4 rotors) are the most common. But you will find tricopters (3 rotors), hexacopters (6 rotors), and octocopters (8 rotors).
The more rotors a drone has, the larger and heavier it will be. And it will also consume more energy.
The only downside with Multirotors is that their batteries don’t last long, and it’s not practical to power them with gas or solar power.
- Easy to fly.
- They don’t need a runway – they can land and take off vertically.
- They can hover over an area for a long time.
- More stable than other types.
- Multi rotors are also cheaper and more accessible.
- Limited battery life
- They have limited payload capabilities.
Examples – All recreational and commercial drones that I’ve discussed above are Multirotors.
Unlike multi-rotors, fixed-wing drones use traditional wings, like those you’ll find in airplanes, to generate a lift.
Since you can fly them by throwing them into the air or through a runway, fixed-wing drones consume less energy than multi-rotor drones. They only need the energy to move forward.
Due to their energy efficiency, they have some of the longest flight-times (more than 10 hours).
This makes them cover longer distances, making them suitable for surveying and mapping vast pieces of land. You can also power them with gas engines.
However, compared to multi-rotor drones, fixed-wing drones are quite expensive and more challenging to operate.
You can’t just fly them or land anywhere you like. You’ll need a runway. They also can’t hover, making them unsuitable for small-scale aerial photography.
Fixed-wing drones also don’t provide client-ready images. For multi-rotor drones, the data is often ready to use after filming. And it may only require a few image correction processes.
But for fixed-wing drones, you get several images that will need to stitching together to come up with the final image.
Also, since they look like birds, there are cases where eagles and other predatory birds would attack and destroy the drones. This may not happen in cities, but it may occur in rural areas.
But fixed-wing drones are quite useful in the military, industrial inspections, and other areas where drones with a longer flight-time are required.
Fixed-wing drones are also useful in delivering medical supplies in Rwanda and other remote areas worldwide, a Zipline program.
- They can fly at higher altitudes.
- Longer flight-time compared to other drones.
- Higher payload capacity – they can carry heavier equipment.
- You need to be highly trained to use these drones.
- They are quite expensive.
- They may need a launcher and a runway to fly and land.
- They can’t hover.
Below are other examples;
Parrot DISCO FPV:
Parrot DISCO FPV is an excellent drone for professional pilots. They made it as easy as possible to fly, and it even has a return-to-home functionality.
For those who love flying in FPV mode, this drone comes with goggles and shoots videos in 1080p quality.
You’ll also love the 45 minutes flight time, which is more than even the most advanced multirotor drones have to offer.
However, it was discontinued, but you can find a used one for less than $500. They also offer a smaller fixed-wing toy drone that costs less than $100. It’s more of a VTOL drone since it has rotors and wings.
SenseFly eBee Classic:
Going for more than $20,000, this is a high-end drone designed for accurate mapping. You can create orthomosaics and 3D models from the data you collect from this drone. It also covers up to 12 square kilometers in one flight and has 50-minute battery life.
They are also known as single-rotor helicopters, single-rotor drones look like an actual helicopter.
They have one rotor and a tail that helps control the direction you want to fly in. In aerodynamics, larger rotors spinning at slower speeds are more efficient.
The single-rotor drone solves the issues in multi-rotor drones and fixed-wing drones.
For instance, I mentioned that a gas engine can’t power multi-rotor drones, and they can’t carry a larger payload. Single-rotor drones can use gas engines, and they can carry some of the largest payloads.
On the other hand, the fixed-wing drone could carry heavy equipment, but it can’t hover. But with the single-rotor drone, you can carry a larger payload and still hover in the air.
So if you have tasks that require hovering with heavy task-specific equipment, such as LiDar scanners, the single-rotor drone is more suitable.
However, they are quite complicated and risky. The blades are sharp and could cause fatal injuries if you get in their way. They are also quite expensive, and they need regular maintenance.
- They can hover in the air.
- They can carry a larger payload.
- They have longer flight times.
- They are quite expensive.
- They are more complex to handle compared to multi-rotor and fixed-wing drones.
- The spinning drones can cause fatal injuries.
Below is a good example;
Alpha 800 UAV Helicopter:
This is a gas-powered single-rotor UAV from Alpha Unmanned Systems. Thanks to the gas engine, the flight time can be as long as 2.5 hours. You can also choose to fly it autonomously or manually.
The 3 kg payload capacity is enough for most applications, and the 30KM range allows you to travel for long distances.
It also has auto-takeoff and landing, making the pilot’s job even easier. And if there are any issues, or you need to call it back, you can initiate the return-to-home function.
The UAV Helicopter also supports a wide range of payloads, including multispectral sensors, LiDar sensors, and infrared.
Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL:
The VITOL is another drone that combines the benefits of fixed-wing drones and multi-rotor drones. This is because they have both fixed-wings and rotors to help them with vertical uplift and landing.
The latest model features tilt-rotors where the whole wings and rotors system switches to a vertical position when the drone is in the air. This shape allows the drone to glide in the air.
These hybrid drones have been in development since the 1950s, but they only became a reality recently with the invention of gyros, accelerometers, and autopilots.
There aren’t many drones of this type around, but a good example is Amazon Prime Air’s delivery drone that they plan to use in delivering their packages.
Amazon Prime Air Drone:
Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO, hinted about a drone delivery service in a 60 Minutes episode in 2013. But Amazon launched Prime Air in 2016. And they have successfully tested their prototypes in various regions.
The latest Prime Air drone was announced in 2019 at the re: MARS Conference.
The fascinating thing about this drone is that it’s automated. It’s capable of flying to the destination, scanning for a landing area, and flying back to the station. This is thanks to the several sensors that help it pick the route and avoid obstacles.
It’s also a hybrid drone with both fixed wings and rotors that allow it to fly and land vertically. The rotors also switch to a vertical position when in flight.
Amazon Prime Air Fleet: The Delivery Drones
Below is a summary of various types of drones based on their design
|Multirotors||They’re easy to fly.|
They don’t need a runway – they can land and take off vertically.
They can hover over an area for a long time.
They are more stable than other types.
Multirotors are also cheaper and more accessible.
|Limited battery life and Limited payload capabilities||Drone racing, aerial photography, filming,|
|Fixed Wing||They can fly at higher altitudes.Longer flight-time compared to other drones.|
Higher payload capacity – they can carry heavier equipment.
You need to be trained to use these drones.
They are quite expensive.
They may need a launcher and a runway to fly and land.
They can’t hover.
They can hover in the air.
They can carry a larger payload.
They have longer flight times.
They are quite expensive.
They are more complex.
The spinning drones can cause fatal injuries.
LiDar scanningMultispectral scanning
|Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOL|
They can hover and fly vertically.
Longer flight-times, Advanced sensors and intelligent systems.
They have not been rolled out for regular usage.
When talking about drones, the multirotor drones with 4 rotors always comes to mind.
As we’ve established, there are several other types – some with more rotors, others with a single rotor, and fixed-wing drones with a different uplift method.
Some drones are mostly for recreation, but there are several models designed for specific tasks.
Now, you may never have to use some of these types of drones, but I have painted a picture of the latest drone world’s developments and some of the developments we are looking forward to.