In the past few years, drones have been in the center of attention when it comes to technology, gadgets and media. After paper planes, kites and toy helicopters, they bring us very close to the ancient dream of human kind – the dream of flying. Being able to control a flying device, and not just slightly directing it, but completely navigating its every movement, gives us a chance of experiencing a bit of that thrill that pilots have. Also, if you have a camera attached to your drone and you’re watching the live stream, you have the privilege to enjoy the view from above!
Of course, drones are not toys, and they’re not supposed to be used for play. ‘Expensive piece of high-tech equipment’ describes them much better! They’ve found their implementation in a lot of occupations and hobbies. The most popular use is for photography or filming, but they’re also very useful when it comes to surveillance, aerial mapping, sports, shipping (e.g. Amazon uses them for package delivery), and even spying! Various types of drones have different advantages and disadvantages, and you have to understand them before you decide which one to buy!
1. There Are Four Types of Drones
Drones can be sorted into four categories based on the configuration of their wings and rotors. They can be single-rotor, multi-rotor or fixed-wing drones, and hybrids. This categorization is important because the way drones fly depends on their design. The multi-rotor drones and hybrids are easier to control and they stabilize themselves very well. That’s why the so-called ‘quadcopters’ are the most popular ones. They also differ by how much battery or fuel they need to accomplish the same task, because, for example, more rotors means more energy consumption. So, when you’re deciding on which one of them to buy, there are plenty of things to consider.
2. Some of Them Are Not Very Easy to Control
Fixed-winged and single-rotor drones are basically very small airplanes and helicopters. We’re all aware that it’s very difficult it is to fly an airplane, but maybe you didn’t know that it’s even harder to control a helicopter! Previous training is required to control these drones, and even then, if you make a mistake, they probably won’t be able to stabilize themselves and you’ll destroy your drone. Bear in mind that these accidents happen to professional pilots. There are many phenomena that occur during flight that you won’t able to understand, or predict, unless you studied fluid mechanics. You should buy one of these drones only if some of their characteristics serve your purpose, and multi-rotor ones are not adequate.
3. Flying Time
If you expect your drone to fly far away from you, you’re gonna have to neglect all other faults of the ones that are very energy efficient. Usually, those are the fixed-wing drones. You’ll have to overcome the difficulties that taking off, flying and landing present when it comes to controlling them. Some of them can fly for 45 minutes, and some of the best and most expensive multi-rotor drones’ flying time is 15-20 minutes shorter! But, if about 30 minutes is enough for you, and you have a couple of thousands of dollars to spare, you can enjoy flying your drone almost carelessly. In fact, they’re almost able control themselves, and they should be, for that price!
If you’re limited by flying time or your budget, some of the most praised fixed-wing drones on the market cost somewhere between 500 and 1000 dollars and they can fly up to 45 minutes long. So, you’ll have to invest some extra time in learning how to control your drone, but you’ll get an outstanding performance!
4. You Can’t Use All of Them for Photography
If you need a drone to make amazing pictures of events and landscapes, as seen from high above, your choice will be limited to multi-rotor drones because they’re the only ones that can hover! The other ones may be able to take pictures while passing by, but it doesn’t make much sense to use them for photography. In comparison, an average quadcopter has a built-in GPS system and a sensor that’s called altimeter, so you can set the exact coordinates and height for your drone to maintain, while you’re adjusting the focal length or setting the exposition and ISO, and so on. Also, many quadcopters are equipped with very nice cameras which can shoot raw pictures!
Stability is a huge issue and that’s something that programmers and developers have been working on quite a lot recently. If it’s not windy, multi-rotor drones are easy to stabilize because they only need their rotors to turn at the same speed. But they have to be equipped with air speed sensors (for example a Pitot tube or an anemometer) and they have to be programmed to use the information from these sensors to contradict the influence of the wind and overcome its gusts. If your quadcopter can reach a maximum speed of 20 mph, it’s not safe to fly it if the wind exceeds 15 mph, especially if your drone carries some kind of a load.
Fixed-wing and single-rotor drones have many difficulties with stabilizing themselves and it’s common for them to crash or flip over when they’re not skillfully controlled. They fly much faster than multi-rotor drones (up to 50 mph), so you also have to make quick decisions, and for that you need some experience, too! A complex software is required for them to have some kind of an autopilot, and you need to learn how it works and when to let it do its own thing. That’s the main reason why hybrids are being developed – they combine the higher speed of these drones with the stability of multi-rotor drones.
6. Takeoff and Landing
When it comes to takeoff and landing, once more the multi-rotor drones have the advantage. They’re able to execute those maneuvers vertically, which makes that part of the flight a walk in a park for them. It’s also very convenient because they’re able to land on almost any kind of terrain! Their self-stabilizing ability makes it possible for them to turn on autopilot and come back to the spot from which they took off (they memorize the takeoff coordinates).
In comparison, some of the fixed-wing drones can be thrown at the start of their flight, but many of them need some kind of a launcher. Also, if they take off in the same way as airplanes, they need a long and flat surface, so you won’t be able to use them on rough terrain. Landing is also a problem because only some of them can land on their belly, and the rest may even require expertise.
On the other hand, helicopter drones have a whole spectrum of complications that may occur during takeoff and landing. They can flip over, shoot downward uncontrollably, and so on. It’s quite easy for them to lose stability and it’s very hard to regain control in those situations.
7. They Can Have a Battery or a Gas Engine
One more thing that you may need to decide upon is power source. Many drones run on batteries because they usually have electric engines. Batteries are very convenient and the electric engines are more energy efficient and easier to control, but batteries are heavy and that weight slows down the drone. If a combustion engine is used and if it runs on gas, the drone weights a lot less, so it’s able to fly much faster and longer!
If you’re searching for a drone to buy, you need to set your priorities and determine your budget. Think about the most frequent tasks that it has to accomplish. If your drone has to be able to hover, your choice will be restricted to multiple rotor kinds. If hovering is not an issue, do you need more flying time or more stability? As described above, the drones with multiple rotors are stabilized more easily, but they’re not very energy efficient, so their flying time is limited, compared to other types. But you also need to think about how much space you have for takeoff and landing. If you’ll be using it on rough terrains, you probably won’t be able to buy a fixed-wing drone. With all of this taken into account, matters of price and quality need to be considered. Fortunately, ‘expensive’ often doesn’t mean ‘high quality’, so don’t make it easy on yourself by buying the most expensive one in your price range. Try to find out what exactly is expensive on them or about them (highly sensitive sensors, design, structure materials, trademark, etc.) and decide if that matters to you or not. After making an informed decision, you can relax and enjoy your flying companion without any surprises or disappointments!