Drone vs Quadcopter: What are the Differences?


Nowadays, RC enthusiasts and hobbyists are finding different ways to enjoy what they love doing as technology has improved so much that we now have many different remote-controlled aircraft that are commercially available. However, in the RC world, different terms such as “drone” and “quadcopter” are often thrown around, which might confuse some people about what these hobbyists are referring to. So, what are the differences between drones and quadcopters?

The term drone is a catch-all term that refers to any kind of unmanned vehicle that doesn’t have a pilot or a driver. A drone can be any vehicle that moves on air, water, and land. Meanwhile, the term quadcopter is a more defined and clear word that refers to a drone that can fly using four rotors. 

While we often apply the term “drone” to the camera-equipped flying vehicle that we often see hobbyists use nowadays, we are actually using that term in the wrong way. Not even a lot of us know that the proper term to use is “quadcopter”. Nevertheless, let us talk more about drones and quadcopters to make it easier for us to understand what makes these two the same but still very much different.

What is a Drone

The RC world is getting bigger and bigger every single year as there are now more hobbyists and RC enthusiasts who are getting their hands on different model vehicles. While in the past we only had model airplanes, helicopters, boats, and cars, we now have a lot more remote-controlled vehicles that hobbyists can enjoy nowadays. And now that we have social media in the day and age of digital technology, the RC world has completely expanded to embrace the modern times we live in.

With that in mind, because of how taking photos for work or for social media purposes has become so widespread, even the RC world is making use of cameras for the different remote-controlled vehicles that are becoming quite popular. We often call these flying aircraft with cameras mounted on them “drones”. But are we really calling them by the correct name? Is a drone really a drone as far as the definition of the word is concerned?

Well, the truth is that the flying remote-controlled camera-equipped aircraft we love to call drones in a commercial sense are actually covered in the definition of a drone. But what you have to know is that, when we say drone, we are using a word that covers a very wide and vast definition that not only refers to the commercial drones that are becoming quite popular nowadays but to a lot of other vehicles as well.

The term “drone” actually means any vehicle that can function autonomously (by itself) or is unmanned. This basically means that drones can include any vehicle that doesn’t have a pilot or driver but can still function well on its own. And when we say “any vehicle”, we literally mean any vehicle. As such, the term “drone” also covers vehicles that work in the air, in water, and on land.

In the most technical terms, drones can be airplanes, helicopters, boats, cars, or motorcycles that are unmanned but are still operating autonomously and without the direct intervention of humans. However, the term has since been expanded to include any vehicle that is also controlled remotely. So, as long as the vehicle doesn’t have a pilot or a driver inside even though it is controlled remotely by a person away from the vehicle, it is still covered by the definition of what a drone actually is.

Essentially, the definition of a drone is actually all-encompassing in such a way that, as long as the vehicle fits the definition, it can be called a drone. This is where it can become confusing because of how there are so many different unmanned vehicles that are functioning autonomously or controlled remotely. These are still drones but we don’t often call them as such even though they actually fit the definition of what a drone is.

What are UAVs

Falling under the term “drone” are the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles or the UAVs, which basically narrows down its definition to include only drones that operate in the air. So, basically, UAVs are still drones but they are strictly aerial vehicles as this term no longer covers vehicles that work both on water and on land. This is where the more popular military drones and commercial drones fall under as we are now eliminating any other vehicle aside from those that fly in the air.

Aside from military UAVs, different companies began developing UAVs that are actually available to the consumer market. These UAVs are the consumer drones we are talking about. What made them popular is that they are small, compact, easy to carry around, and can be controlled remotely from a good distance. On top of that, these UAVs come equipped with advanced cameras that allow people to take aerial videos and shots of an entire landscape or a skyline or even take aerial selfies to become the envy of people on social media.

Because of the popularity of these UAVs, we have come to call them drones. And when you use the term “drone” nowadays, it has become synonymous with these commercially available UAVs that so many RC enthusiasts and hobbyists cannot get enough of.

Going back to our point, the term “drone” is actually a catch-all word that covers UAVs and any other vehicle that works on water or on land but is unmanned or remotely controlled from a distance. So, yes, we are correct in calling commercial UAVs drones but we have to understand that this word actually covers a huge playing field.

What is a Quadcopter

Now that you know what a drone is, let us now turn our attention to what a quadcopter is so that it will be easier for you to understand what makes it different from a drone and why there are some people who are also throwing around this term nowadays. 

So, when we said that the word “drone” covers a wide playing field, we narrowed it down a bit to UAVs, which only cover unmanned vehicles that work in the air. However, the definition of UAV is still quite wide because any aerial vehicle that is unmanned can be called a UAV. This can include military drones or even model airplanes and helicopters. In that regard, let us narrow it down a bit more and use the term “quadcopter”.

When we refer to quadcopters, we are now talking about the consumer UAVs that function by making use of four rotors, hence the name “quadcopter” or “quad helicopter”. These four rotors are strategically placed in all four corners of the quadcopter to allow it to fly balanced. So, if you try to form a mental picture, you are most likely thinking about the commercial drones or UAVs that are popularly called “drones” nowadays.

In other words, the most narrowed down word that we should be using when referring to commercial drones is quadcopter because this term specifically refers to those flying vehicles while excluding all of the other UAVs such as military drones and model airplanes.

Differences Between Drones and Quadcopters

If you have read the definitions mentioned above of what drones and quadcopters are, it is easy to tell what makes them different. However, we will narrow things down to make it easier for us to really see what makes drones different from quadcopters and vice versa.

DroneQuadcopter
CoversAny unmanned vehicle that runs on air, water, or landConsumer UAVs that fly using four rotors
Runs onAir, water, or landAir
UsesMilitary and commercialcommercial
AvailabilityFor military personnel only or for consumer purposesReadily available to the public

In terms of what they cover, drones can be any vehicle that is unmanned or is remotely piloted because the definition of that word covers a really wide playing field. You are essentially including airplanes, boats, and cars that are all unmanned when you are referring to drones. Meanwhile, a quadcopter is one of the most narrowed down versions of a drone because it refers to commercially sold UAVs that run on four rotors. So, in other words, a quadcopter is a drone but a drone is not necessarily a quadcopter.

When it comes to their uses, drones can be used for anything such as for military, transportation, and leisure. Military drones are examples of drones that are used for military purposes. A self-driving car is an example of a drone that can be used for transportation. Of course, consumer drones are examples of drones that can be used for fun and leisure.

On the other hand, quadcopters are almost entirely used for hobby and professional purposes. Commercially, they can be used for fun or for leisure by hobbyists and RC enthusiasts. Meanwhile, you can use them for professional purposes if you need to take aerial shots for your job or for your business.

As to availability, there are different types of drones that may or may not be easily available. Military drones are, of course, reserved only for military purposes. Meanwhile, drones such as self-driving cars and consumer UAVs are commercially available for plenty of people in the world. And of course, quadcopters are commercially and readily available for the public to buy.

Elizabeth Ciobanu

Editor-in-Chief. Elizabeth is a full-time (homeschooling!) mom of four, and serial entrepreneur in a variety of enterprises, one of which is producing content for Droneblog. If free time existed, she would love to spend more time on hobbies such as flying a drone.

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