What is a Drone? A Definition and Popular Types

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Even in 2021, the Google query “what is a drone?” is still one of the most popular questions people ask about this product. If you’re here because you’re looking for detailed information on this topic, you’ve come to the right place! As your most reliable source of everything drone-related, we’ve created a comprehensive page covering this topic in-depth. Read on to learn what exactly the definition of “drone” is, the most popular types of drones, and everything else you need to know to understand this exciting product fully.

What is a Drone? – A Simplified Drone Definition

A drone is a common name for every unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). With the name in mind, a common feature of all drones is the apparent lack of a pilot on board, a level of autonomy that makes it very safe and practical to fly. The pilot is always secure and safe from anything the drone experiences during its flight.

 This autonomy can range significantly to cover advanced autonomy features that rely on sensors, cameras, and detectors to calculate and predict the vehicle’s movement. Different drones may last in size, weight, parts, range, flight time, or many other factors. But the autonomy characteristic is what all UAVs have in common.

What are Drones Used For?

Drones were initially developed for use in aerospace, military, and other industries that are dull, dirty, or dangerous for humans. However, due to their unique aesthetic appeal and performance features, they have found their way into everyday use. Here are the most common areas in which drones are regularly used:

  • Military and Defense – Drones have been used in the military and defense industries for decades. These small and portable vehicles have proven to be very efficient and reliable in leading tactical initiatives without putting military personnel in danger.
  • Emergency Response – High-quality cameras, thermal imaging features, and innovative technologies that mark top-level drones make them an excellent emergency response team tool. They can help aerially identify victims who would be difficult to spot otherwise.
  • Conservation – The rapid climate change and poaching lead to the extinction of thousands of species each year. Drones allow researchers to study ecosystems more efficiently. As for the latter, they allow conservationists to prevent and stop poachers more effectively.
  • Healthcare – Modern medicine is constantly evolving, and the introduction of drones into the field is the perfect example of this. Drones can deliver valuable medical supplies, help prevent diseases, and raise living standards in rural regions and difficult terrains.
  • Humanitarian Aid – In the past few years, drones have proven to be critical for providing humanitarian aid and disaster relief in the aftermath of large-scale fires, hurricanes, and earthquakes. The demand for drone technology in this field is constantly rising, which is a promising step towards prompt responses to such issues in the future.
  • Agriculture – Drones are a very popular and useful tool among farmers looking to improve their efficiency by automating specific processes. More precisely, drones have found their use in highly-repetitive and delta-oriented tasks such as planting seeds and pollinating flowers.
  • Consumer Entertainment – From VR entertainment to stunning aerial shots and photographs, drones provide endless opportunities in the entertainment industry. Between enthusiastic pilots and professional drone flyers and acrobats, drones are a whole new entertainment branch that’s just hitting its stride.

Most Popular Types of Drones

Although the term “drones” is an all-encompassing name for all crewless aerial vehicles, this category isn’t uniform. There are many different types of drones with noticeable differences between each other. To keep it concise, we’ve narrowed the list down to the three main and most popular types of drones.

Single-Rotor Drone – Definition

Single rotor drones are very similar to a traditional helicopter in terms of how they operate. This type of drone has just one main rotor on top, accompanied by a small tail rotor that allows the pilot to control the drone’s direction.

Single-rotor drones only take up a small part of the drone market, especially when it comes to consumer products. These drones come with a lot of beneficial advantages. Most notably, these include:

  • Longer Flight Times – Since there is only one larger rotor blade that spins relatively slowly, the aircraft is more efficient. Because of this, it can offer a longer flight time compared to other types of drones.
  • Fast Flight Speed – Again, similarly to a helicopter, a single-rotor drone can support stable and fast forward flight.

When it comes to flying difficulty, single-rotor drones fall in between the other two types we’ll talk about. They are stable enough to hover in one spot but not sufficient to survive a miscalculated landing, as the blades can break off reasonably easily. Aside from this, other notable downsides include:

  • Harder to Fly – Single-rotor drones have a steep learning curve and are not the best choice for beginners. The aforementioned challenging landing, enhanced vibration from the sole rotor, and mechanical complexity of the vehicle make it harder to fly than multi-rotor drones.
  • Less Safe – Compared to other types of drones, single-rotor drones are not nearly as safe. And while a small consumer drone won’t cause you any severe injuries, the unguarded single rotor can undoubtedly leave you with a nasty scar if you’re not careful when flying.

Multi-Rotor Drone – Definition

As you can assume from the name, the definition of a multi-rotor drone is a drone that has at least two or more rotors. Most commonly, it is comprised of either two or four rotors, although you can find drones with up to sixteen rotors. Multi-rotor drones are a common sight in the commercial drone industry, mainly because of the many common characteristics that mark them. The most prominent advantages of multi-rotor drones are:

  • Ease of Use – Multi-rotor drones are intuitive, responsive, and allow for great control even in limited space. This ease of use makes them a prevalent option on the consumer market, as they are very simple to fly and can survive a beating.
  • Stable Camera Control – When it comes to aerial photography, stability, and overall control of shot framing, no other type can best what multi-rotor drones can offer. This makes them the go-to choice for aerial photography for everyone ranging from photography amateurs to big-budget Hollywood companies.

With all of this in mind, multi-rotor drones, just like the other two types, come with a unique set of disadvantages you should be aware of before purchasing one. The most significant drawbacks of multi-rotor drones are:

  • Short Flight Time – The most significant and most obvious disadvantage of multi-rotor drones is the comparatively short flight time. Even if you opt for one of the most expensive multi-rotor drones on the market, you’re still looking at only around half an hour of flight time.
  • Limited Speed – Although multi-rotor drones can reach solid flight speeds, they lag far behind fixed-wing and single-rotor drones in terms of this area. This makes them a solid choice for the consumer market but not a suitable option for military, defense, or emergency response.

Fixed-Wing Drone – Definition

Contrary to single and multi-rotor drones, which use “rotary wings”, fixed-wing drones utilize wings the same way an airplane would. They use wings to gain lift instead of vertical lift rotors. Since they use the energy only to move forward and not up, they are the most efficient type of drones. Besides this advantage, fixed-wing drones also come with these upsides:

  • Fast Flight Speed – Thanks to their aerodynamic design, fixed-wing drones can reach staggering speeds. For instance, the top military drones, which are all fixed-winged, can reach speeds of close to 700 mph (1,126 kph). In aeronautical terms, this equals Mach 0.91!
  • Long Endurance – Because they use the energy only to move forward and not up, fixed-winged drones can last considerably longer than the other two types of drones. The most expensive models can last in the air for a dozen hours or more, a number that the two other types can’t come close to.
  • Large Area Cover – Combining the speed and efficiency of this type, fixed-wing drones can cover a significantly larger area than other types of drones. Although they don’t make the steadiest or prettiest recordings, they can map up entire areas without much effort.

From the three main advantages above, it’s understandable why fixed-wing drones have found their use in military and defense industries. That said, these drones also come with a distinct set of drawbacks. The most notable disadvantages of fixed-wing drones are:

  • Expensive – Fixed-wing drones aren’t a customer-friendly choice when it comes to consumer products. They are much more expensive than both previously-listed types, which is why they’re mainly limited to a narrow industry field.
  • Harder to Fly – Like single-rotor drones, the unique design of fixed-wing drones makes them significantly more complicated to fly than multi-rotor drones. Once you get this drone up, you need to be confident in your flying abilities, as the landing won’t be pretty if you’re an untrained drone pilot.

An Expanded Drone Classification

Apart from the three main types of drones, you can classify these vehicles by countless different categories. You can group them into price categories or sort them by features and performance characteristics. That said, if we were to expand on the three primary types of drones, the most common classification is by size. Taking this into account, drones can come in the following sizes:

  • Micro Drones – 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) or less
  • Very Small Drones – 0.551 lbs. (251 grams) to 4.4 pounds (2 kilograms)
  • Small Drones – 4.43 pounds (2.01 kilograms) to 55 pounds (25 kilograms)
  • Medium Drones – 55.1 pounds (25.01 kilograms) to 330 pounds (150 kilograms)
  • Large Drones – More than 330 pounds (150 kilograms)

From the perspective of consumer drones, the standard-size consumer drone weighs approximately 2.6 pounds (1.2 kilograms). In line with this, there are precise rules set for commercial users in many countries worldwide. For example, in the US, every drone that weighs over 0.55 lbs. (250 grams) should be registered with the FAA.

What is a Drone? – Summing Up The Definition Of Drone

If you took the time to read every bit of information on this page, you now know everything there is to know about these uncrewed aerial vehicles, the most common types and fields of use for drones. With that in mind, you can see that the inherent nature and design of this technology opens limitless possibilities in terms of future use and application.

As the drone industry continues to develop and grow in the following years, the functions of these vehicles grow. Although we can’t say with certainty what the future holds for drones, we can confidently claim that it’s a bright one. If you consider yourself a drone enthusiast, it’s worth keeping up with the latest inventions in the industry, as drones will only become more exciting and complex with each passing year.

Jeremiah Burnett

What started as a gift for my two sons turned into a major hobby for me! After playing with my sons' quadcopter one winter afternoon, I quickly became obsessed with all things drone. I enjoy precision flying, creating stunning and smooth aerial videos, and taking beautiful photos of my hometown.

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