There are many different types of drones that can be used for different purposes, but before you decide which type of drone is right for you, you need to actually know what the different types of drones are. That said, let’s talk more about the different types of drones and their uses.
Drones and UAVs
When we are talking about drones, it is important for us to first define what a drone is so that you can understand what we are referring to when we say the word “drone”. This makes it easier to avoid any confusion when we talk about different types of drones as far as this article is concerned.
The word “drone” is actually a catch-all term that describes any vehicle that is unmanned or doesn’t have a pilot or driver. This can refer to autonomous vehicles that automatically function without having a pilot or driver controlling them either remotely or in the vehicle itself. The definition of a drone also extends to vehicles that are remotely controlled, so long as they are unmanned. Of course, because we are referring to “vehicles” here, a drone can be a boat, car, or aircraft.
However, in popular parlance, we often limit the term “drone” to aircraft, and this is where unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs come in. Basically speaking, UAVs are a specific type of drone that refers specifically to vehicles that function in the air as opposed to running on the ground or on the water. For the purposes of this article, when we are talking about drones, we are referring to UAVs because the term “drone” has become quite synonymous with UAVs even though it also covers vehicles that run on land and on water.
One major category of drones is the UAVs that are used for military and for commercial purposes. The military UAVs are the ones you see on television. They are primarily used for remote operations that involve spying or bombing.
However, the mainstream consumer or commercial market UAVs are the ones that we are referring to in this article as these are the drones that people can fly for professional and leisure purposes.
Again, the reason why we are limiting the definition of drones to commercial UAVs is to simplify our discussion about the different types of drones so that we no longer have to cover all other vehicles that are supposed to be covered by the definition of the term “drone”.
Major categories of drones
Now that we have clearly stated that we are only going to talk about consumer and commercial UAVs when we are talking about the different types of drones and their uses, let us look at the major categories of drones that we have in today’s market.
Multi-copter drones are probably the most popular drones nowadays when people refer to drones or to UAVs. These are the drones that you can see flying in the air, or zooming around taking pictures or videos of the scenery, or maybe aerial selfies of the owner.
Multi-copter drones are among the cheapest drones on this list as you can get very affordable variants of these drones on the market. However, there are also more expensive variants depending on their manufacturer and on how many copters and rotors the drone has. For example, you can get a $20 toy quadcopter, or you can get a $10,000 octocopter.
Most people make use of multi-copter drones as an “eye in the sky” kind of drone that they use for viewing an entire landscape from a bird’s eye view. Of course, let’s not forget about the aerial selfies that we previously talked about.
One limitation of multi-copter drones is that they tend to have a limited operational time as they can only stay in the air for a short period in comparison to their other counterparts. Moreover, most multi-copter drones are not able to fly too far away from their operator holding the controller. And let’s not even talk about their speed and endurance as these drones tend to be comparatively slow. That’s why multi-copter drones are not the best option out there for aerial mapping or for long-distance inspections that require drones that are capable of longer running times and faster speeds.
However, even though multi-copter drones do have their weaknesses, there are many advantages to the multi-copter, hence the reason for their popularity. One of the biggest advantages is their agility and ability to maneuver quickly and navigate through complex environments.
Also, the technology used for these drones is continually improving. They are becoming more efficient every year, improving their energy consumption rates and overall flight times. Also, there are now a lot of different multi-copter drones that have more rotors that will allow the drone to have faster speeds and bigger payloads. You can even find multi-copter drones that are capable of carrying the weight of a person or even dragging someone through the water (which is seen in a sport called drone surfing).
Most of the time it is not practical for manufacturers to make use of gas to power the rotors of these drones because they need fast and high-precision throttle changes to stay stable while in the air. That’s why multi-copter drones generally make use of motors that are powered by electricity coming from the drone’s battery. But, at the same time, this also limits the drone’s operational time in the air.
The fixed-wing drone is the complete opposite of the rotary drone in the sense that it doesn’t make use of copters or rotors to fly. Instead, as the term implies, these drones have fixed wings that will allow them to function in a similar manner to airplanes. Because they are similar to airplanes, they are only capable of moving forward.
Despite the fact that fixed-wing drones are only capable of moving forward due to their design, they are much more energy-efficient as they don’t need to use up energy to stay in one place, unlike drones that function on rotors. This also allows them to cover longer distances at faster speeds so that they can be much more effective for aerial mapping.
Of course, because they are not designed the same way as rotary drones, fixed-wing drones are efficient and are able to make use of gas engines for their source of power. This allows them to have much longer flight times, and in fact, are capable of staying in flight for nearly a day as opposed to the limited operational time of 30-50 minutes that rotary drones tend to have.
The greatest weakness of a fixed-wing drone is the fact that it only moves forward and that it cannot hover in one spot. This means that you cannot use fixed-wing drones for aerial photography in the same way as a rotor drone, due to their lack of stability. However, you can still use them for taking aerial videos as long as the drone is flying at steady speeds.
Also, the fact that fixed-wing drones must move forward at all times makes it more difficult to launch and land them. Just think of how an airplane needs a lot of space to launch or land as they require a runway to get up enough speed to get into the air. The same concept applies to fixed-wing drones – they usually need a launching mechanism to launch them into the air. Also, the landing will require a runway or even a parachute or net so that you can safely catch the drone without breaking it.
Of course, fixed-wing drones are also going to cost more money and are more difficult to fly compared to highly popular rotary drones. You may actually need to learn how to fly an airplane through a simulation for you to learn how to fly a fixed-wing drone. In comparison, people can learn how to fly a rotary drone using a similar simulation but don’t necessarily have to. It won’t take an average person too long to learn how to fly a rotary drone from the comfort of their own backyard.
Meanwhile, for fixed-wing drones, you need to be in a place that allows you enough space to launch and land the drone. But, of course, there is also the danger of running into obstacles as you fly the drone because dodging obstacles is much more difficult with a drone that can only go forward as opposed to rotary drones that can stop and hover in the middle of the air, or go backward, or sharply to the right or left.
Fixed-wing drones are most commonly used for commercial applications rather than for hobbyists, for the reasons mentioned above. They are perfect for mapping large distances, or for long-range inspections projects.
Single-copter drones are similar to their multi-copter counterparts except for the fact that they only need one rotor to fly. Of course, these drones also need a tail to control their direction. You might already be familiar with single-copter drones because they are simply miniature versions of the helicopter that is widely in use for commercial, private, or military purposes all over the world.
The reason there are some people who prefer single-copter drones compared to their multi-copter counterparts is the fact that they are much more energy-efficient since they only have one rotor. Moreover, they can also be powered by a gas motor, which allows the drone to have a greater endurance compared to the electricity-powered multi-rotor drone.
Also, going into aerodynamics, the larger the rotor blade is and the slower it spins, the more efficient the aerial vehicle is, and that is precisely the reason that single-copter drones are more efficient than multi-rotor drones. This is also why multi-copter drones with fewer rotors are much more energy-efficient than multi-copter drones that have more rotors (think of a quadcopter versus an octocopter).
For those who want to carry a heavier payload such as when you want to use a heavy laser scanner on your drone, the single-rotor drone is the best choice for you because they are capable of carrying heavier weights at a more efficient rate. They are also capable of long-distance flight due to their endurance.
As amazing as single-rotor drones may sound, they do have some downsides. They are complex to run and to pilot and are much more expensive than their multi-rotor counterparts. Moreover, because their spinning blades are larger than the ones you can find in multi-rotor drones, the rotor of a single-copter drone is much more dangerous and can actually cause serious damage or injuries. Fatalities are not even rare when it comes to drone helicopters due to how dangerous the spinning rotors can be.
You also need to consider how difficult single-copter drones can be in terms of piloting them remotely. Multi-copters are by far the easiest to pilot, while single-copter drones are more difficult and are nearly as difficult as fixed-wing drones are. The good news is that you can hover and land them on the spot instead of using a runway, however, they are not as stable and as easy to maneuver as their multi-copter cousins.
Hybrid and special use drones
Hybrid and special use drones are some of the rarer ones that you can find since these drones are still under continuous development and improvement. They also usually come at a premium price, since they are specialty devices, and don’t have the advantage or high sales quantities to bring the price down.
Hybrid drones usually refer to drones that make use of gasoline or diesel fuel to power a battery pack that powers the motors. These generally come in a multi-copter form, to get the best of long flight times in conjunction with the maneuverability and dexterity of the rotor drone.
Another type of drone that you could think of as a hybrid is called the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) drone. This is a fixed-wing drone that makes use of rotors primarily for the takeoff and landing portion of its flight. Having rotors allows it to take off and land in a small area, while the fixed-wing design gives it a much more efficient, long-distance flight capability.