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Can Drones Carry Things? (Explained for Beginners)

Drones have a plethora of uses these days. One thing a drone can certainly do is carry things. The official term is known as carrying a payload.

In some senses, most drones available to consumers today are already carrying a payload, the camera.

While an argument could be made that drones such as the Mavic series, Skydio, or Parrot drones have a camera built into them, so does the Phantom 4 series, except it’s on the bottom of the drone and the drone is lifting it. 

One could also argue that if it is not a structural piece of the drone that maintains flight and the drone is carrying it, that drone is carrying a payload. 

 Drones such as the Mavic Series, Skydio, and Parrot are not made to carry payloads such as external cameras, supplies, or other add-ons. However, that is not to say that a Mavic or Phantom could not carry a payload.

Shown below is a Phantom 4 with a 360-degree camera mounted to the top of the drone. Pretty cool, huh?

Image Courtesy of Unmanned Aerial Operations

Since there is already a forward-facing camera on the bottom side of the drone, the room had to be made for the 360 camera.

While it is not pulling the camera, it is pushing it and is still carrying it, which it was never designed to do so. However, the Mavic can carry the 360 camera with great stability.

It would be ill-advised to recommend most drones made for consumer purposes for carrying any kind of payload. This is because the potential for crashing the drone by throwing it off balance is raised dramatically when you add extra weight to a light drone such as a Parrot or Skydio. 

These drones are meant to be affordable, compact, and most importantly, light. This is to make sure that the battery lasts for as long as possible while beating back the effects of gravity on the drone. 

The propellers on these drones can only put out so much force, so when extra weight is added, it puts strain on not only the motors but the battery and the physical frame of the drone as well.

Even large agricultural drones may break at a certain point if the payload is too much. This brings us to payload drones.

Payload drones

 Drones with the ability to carry a payload are known as industry or enterprise drones. This is because it’s extremely uncommon for a recreational flier to have a need to purchase or fly one. 

These drones are very expensive, and unless you plan on making money with the drone, it would likely be a net loss overall. One of the smallest payload drones is the Matrice 200. 

This reliable drone can lift up to five pounds, and is among the most affordable payload drones. DJI has a complete series of Matrices that are all capable of lifting heavy payloads. 

The larger the drone, the larger and heavier the payload it can lift. Some of the Matrices are what are known as smart drones and have RTK positioning systems in them to allow for high-accuracy aerial surveys. 

Usually, these aerial surveys are done with a photogrammetry camera or LiDar unit which are additional payloads. The drone has to carry its own weight plus the weight of the camera or payload unit. 

This means that you wouldn’t be able to fly an m200 with a LiDar unit designed for the m600. It would likely not make it off the ground, and if it did it, would pose a large risk to itself and everyone around it. 

There are some drones such as the m600 that can lift extremely heavy payloads. However, extremely heavy is relative, because when you enter the world of agricultural spraying drones, the word “heavy” changes completely. 

Agricultural drones

Agricultural drones often lift 20 pounds or more of payload. An agricultural spraying drone is unique in that while it is “smart,” its purpose for flying in a drone mapping grid pattern isn’t to collect data. It’s to spray crops.

These drones are often very large quadcopters, large hexacopters, or–in the most heavy-duty cases– octocopters.

These drones are effective because, unlike planes which have been used for years to spray crops, they can fly directly over the crops at low altitudes. 

Without the risk of injury to the pilot, agricultural drones carrying their extremely heavy payloads move across the land as though they were a Mavic Mini.

However, these drones don’t sound like the buzzing bee sounds that we all know and love. These heavy-duty payload drones sound more akin to a helicopter.

The pitch created by the spinning of their propellers, which in some cases are four to a motor, is so low that on camera the audio isn’t easy to be picked up.

Larger than 55 pounds

Drones beyond this weight limit are no longer considered in the same class of unmanned aerial vehicles. The stopping point for the weight capacity to be considered an unmanned aerial vehicle is 55 pounds, after all. 

This weight limit is without payload. When you start to move into these drones that are above 55 pounds, the possibilities for the payload become very broad.

While these drones aren’t used very often yet, it’s very likely that in the future they will be used to move parts in construction, operate as search and rescue vehicles, and possibly be used as a medical aid. 

As it stands right now, a patented fixed-wing design drone carries payloads every day.

A company called Zipline delivers medical supplies in time-sensitive scenarios. In Rwanda, this was crucial to saving lives because the towns were so far apart that driving supplies in a timely way was impossible. 

The solution was to have the drone do it. Now Zipline has moved operations to the United States, partnering with Walmart to deliver packages in the American West as well as staying true to their initial mission which was delivering medical supplies. 

Final thoughts

Altogether, the answer is yes, drones can certainly carry things, even when they’re not supposed to.

It’s up to the pilot to make good decisions on whether to attach a payload that may be too heavy for a drone and risk crashing.

Each drone has a stated weight limit, and most consumer drones are zero. Branching out into the larger-sized payload-carrying drones brings in new risks and possibilities.

However, it needs to be understood that the risks associated with attaching another camera to a Phantom 4 are not the same as attaching a 50-pound payload to an agricultural drone.

It’s important to always be responsible when flying drones, and even more responsible when modifying them.

Unmanned Aerial Operations (link)