Different Types of Drones – A Quick Guide

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So you got interested in Unmanned Arial Vehicle (UAV) popularly known as Drone. Drones are becoming very popular now since its inception because of its wide range of applications in various areas like defence, agriculture, photography, survey, delivery etc. and also because building drones has become a commodity now. You can easily buy various different parts and assemble and build your own flying machine. There are many open source hardware and software projects exists with huge community to accelerate drone development cross the world. We will cover other areas of drones in future articles, now let’s start with understanding different types of drones which exists today.

Drones can be classified on different basis like size, flying time, range, area of application and abilities. But the fundamental way to classify drones are based on its arial platform and there are 4 types of drones that exists today – 

  1. Multi Rotor Drones
  2. Fixed Wings Drones
  3. Single Rotor Drones (Helicopter)
  4. Hybrid VTOL Drones

Multi Rotor Drones

The most commonly seen and popular drones are multi rotor drones. These drones that have multiple rotors and propellers created for vertical takeoff and landing. These are the most commonly used drones by professionals and hobbyists for various applications like arial photography, arial video surveillance, arial land surveillance etc because they can stand still on air. These kind of drones are easy to manufactures, carry and also the cheapest option available. 

Tricopter (3 rotors), quadcopter (4 rotors), hexacopter (6 rotors) and octocopter (8 rotors) are various drones in multi rotor drone type. The purpose of having more than one rotor is to help provide better control over the drone’s position in the sky. The more rotors it has, the more ways it can manoeuver itself, but the controls can be a lot more complicated to learn on an octocopter drone rather than a quadcopter one.

Some examples of common multi-rotor quadcopters available from DJI

Among all multi rotor drones, the most popular choice of drone is quadcopter. Though multi rotor drones are most commonly used and popular, there is some downside to it. First, they can’t fly for very long in the sky and they have limited flight time between 20-30 mins only and second, its endurance and speed is limited. Because multi rotor drones fly against gravity and most of the energy is used in fighting gravity and stabilising themselves in the air.

Fixed Wing Drones

Fixed wing drones are those that looks like a small aeroplane. They are made of a central body that has two wings and a single propeller. Once in the air, the two wings generate lift that compensates for its weight — allowing the aircraft to remain in flight. These drones also require a runway or catapult to take off and land. Unlike multi rotor drones, fixed wing drone can’t take off or land vertically and neither do they can stay still at one point in the air and thus they can’t be used for still arial photography. 

Fixed wings drone always move forward on their set course and thus they don’t need to fight against gravity which gives fixed wing drones longer flight time in the air. Most fixed wings drones have an average flying time of few couple of hours and they fly very fast as compared to multi rotor drones. Gas engine powered fixed wing drones can fly up to 16 hours or higher. Owing to their fast speed, higher flying time and fuel efficiency, fixed wing drones are ideal for long distance operations (be it mapping or surveillance) and mostly used in military operations for surveillance and in agriculture for spraying large fields. 

fixed rotor drones

The eBee is a common fixed wing drone model available from SenseFly

Fixed wing drones are also costly and requires longer training to fly and land when compared to multi rotor drones which are cheap and doesn’t require any additional training. Flying a multi rotor drones are learned on the go.

Multi-rotor aircraft are the most commonly used drone models for making maps and models with DroneDeploy. In fact, they make up 97% of the drones mapping on DroneDeploy platform. Learn more about the breakdown in our recent report on 2017 Commercial Drone Industry Trends.

Single Rotor Drones (Helicopter)

Single rotor drones are mini versions of actual helicopters but unmanned and controlled by ground stations. Single rotor drones have one big rotor on top for flying and a small rotor on the far end tail for controlling the direction. These drones again have longer flight time than multi rotor but less than fixed wings. They can also be powered by gas engine like a fixed wing drone.

When compared to multi rotor drones, single rotor drones are not very popular and comes with higher complexity and operational risks. These drones are also on the higher side of the cost when compared to multi rotors.

single rotor drones

Single rotor drone by PRODRONE

Hybrid VTOL Drones

Hybrid VTOL are the new generation of drones being developed by companies for commercial use. It uses a hybrid approach combining benefits of both fixed wing (higher flight time) and rotor based model (vertical take-off and landing). This concept has been tested from around 1960’s without much success. However, with the advent of new generation sensors (gyros and accelerometers), this concept has got some new life and direction.

These are again very costly drones and not as commonly available as quadcopters. They are being used (tested) by large companies for various commercial applications and one such is Amazon Prime Delivery Drone. 

hybrid vtol

Prototype drone tested for Amazon prime delivery

Stay tuned for more informative articles on Drones.


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