Drones are a very interesting aspect of science fiction meeting science fact! Drones buzzing around is the stuff of futuristic books and films, classics such as Back to the Future (Part 2), used in World War 2, the Vietnam War and pilotless balloons used by the Austrian army during an attack on Venice in 1849.
As with a number of inventions first developed by the Military, Drones have slowly (and now very rapidly) moved into the mainstream consumer market. In 2016, a million consumer drones were sold in the US.
An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. The flight of UAVs may operate with various degrees of autonomy: either under remote control by a human operator (ie like most of the quadcopters reviewed on this site, under $100, $200), or fully or intermittently autonomously, by onboard computers.
When it comes down to the classification of these drones, there is no set standard. According to the usage, drones are constructed in various shapes and sizes. One of the places drones are used regularly is in the military. They use them to conduct surveillance work in areas where there is a potential risk in sending humans to do the same. There are 9 types of drones discussed in this article, ranging from consumer to military.
The general hobbyist drone, the quadcopter that lets you fly it with a control and have some fun. The quadcopter comes with four propellors and motors, a 4-point frame, a controller, and potentially a camera, GPS as you move up the cost curve.
Syma X5SW drone
Hexacopters are like Quadcopters but with an additional 2 motors, as per the name obviously. With additional stability and 6 motors as per the name, great for photography.
Octocopters come with 8 motors and propellors and can provide additional stability for photography with additional cost. For example, the DJI S1000 has been specially designed for high level professional aerial photography and cinematography. It comes with retractable landing gear, as well as folding frame arms and propellers to minimize storage space. Every detail has been designed with the needs of creators in mind, helping them to realize their vision while its light weight offers them a longer flight time.
Wedding photography - Wedding photographers are using drones to capture the bride and groom's special moment.
Then for interest here are some new unmanned camera drones that do great automated photography to see what is possible.
While we have controlled drones for fun with video streaming, some clever people realised with the growth in drone FPV VR headsets , you can sync this up to a headset and watch your drone fly in first person view (FPV) seeing what the drone sees.
Soon thereafter drone racers set up in abandoned warehouses to fly like the video below. Flyers have spent hours custom building their multi-rotor machines and fitting them with onboard cameras. Known as FPV racing - or first person view - the racers use special goggles, some held together with tape, giving them a drone's-eye view:
As with evolution of any new sport, what was a hobby has now crossed into the professional racing space with the world’s first $1m drone race - The World Drone Prix in Dubai was the first million dollar drone race, with the winning team taking home a cool $250,000. Video footage of the drone racing is below:
Drones for postal delivery and package delivery such as the Amazon drones
Pesticide crop sprayer – drones made to carry insecticides and fly over crops to spray in a uniform pattern and be tracked by GPS. Allows the farmers to spray without requiring tractors as well being unmanned.
Compared to manned aircraft, UAVs are often preferred for missions that are too "dull, dirty or dangerous” for humans. These are the top 10 military drones from around the world, ranging from hovering helicopters to radar to automated killing machines
While the military drones are interesting and have greatly aided the commercialization of drones, one cannot help but feel that Skynet is not far behind! NSA documents leaked by former NSA staffer Edward Snowden suggests that people killed by drones based on metadata may have been innocent.
What’s next? Here are some great videos of what’s possible in terms of experimental drones. Improvements in the artificial intelligence of the drones allows them to learn and play together like in this TedX presentation
Further exciting developments will come from improvements in batteries, charging sources such as solar drones, and improvements in drone motors, controllers and such. Here is a video of high speed long range drones that can travel over 100 km/h
As the strength of drone motors increases, it is only a matter of time before personal transportation becomes a reality. Here we can see someone implementing a drone as a hoverboard:
These are a large number of types of drones ranging in application from those tasks considered dangerous (military), to dull (agriculture) to just plain fun (consumer and photography drones).
The fact is that we haven’t scratched the surface of these devices. Many ideas that have been expressed in fiction and academia will become reality, utilising drones for automated transportation, deliveries, flying and automated drones that help with city cleaning and domestic chores.
Hopefully we can use them to improve our lives rather than destroy but the technology and possibilities are exciting, remember to have fun!
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5 of the best quadcopters for under $200
Do you want to crash your quadcopter? Yes/No? Simulate it with one of these 7.