Types of Drones – A Complete Guide

Among the technical stuff that you must know about drones, the type should be at the top. Now, when we said technical, some of you may have squirmed in their seats. Don’t fret. This is not going to be a headache-inducing lecture to be followed by a quiz.

Instead, feel free to hop on to the approach that interests you the most. Our research led us to three perspectives on type: recreational and commercial, multirotor and fixed-wing, and specialized according to work or industry. Understanding all of them is the goal. But getting started with one should be fine.

That said, let’s not delay adding to your arsenal of fun yet important facts about drones.

types of drones

What are the Different Types of Drones?

Drones are not a novel concept, but their use drastically changed when they first entered the consumer space. What had once been accessible mostly to the military and flown by people with PhD became commonplace and user-friendly.

We’ll return to the history of drones and discuss their future later. But for now, let’s go over the different types of drones available in the market. There are three ways to go about categorizing, and we can start with:

Type of Drones: Recreational vs. Commercial?

Recreational Drones 

This type is composed of more than just toy drones. So, while some functions and features overlap with one another and with commercial drones, we’ll describe the sub-types falling under this category.

  • Toy Drones – This is the gizmo in some people’s minds when they think about recreational drones. Indeed, this tiny drone is often targeted at kids and adults alike who can fly it in confined spaces. Models are also known as micro and mini-drones, which are inexpensive, ultra-lightweight, and easy to use. However, they have a super short flight time.
  • Mini Drones – Some mini-drones, however, can be fitted with a camera. They are still mostly flown indoors, and some come pre-installed with low-resolution cameras. Others let you attach your own smartphone or action camera for taking selfies, travel photos, and the like.
  • Camera Drones – Some drones have higher camera resolutions and reasonable flying times. They also offer greater control, although at a higher price point. Beginners who want to capture decent aerial shots can benefit from this one.
  • Prosumer Drones – As recreational drones advance in features, they enter a subset best defined by the arrival of the DJI Phantom circa 2013. The Wired calls it neither a toy nor a tool, which perfectly describes the line the prosumer drones straddle. 
  • FPV Racing Drone – The last type under this category is the first-person-view racing drone. As the name suggests, this one is used in the newly founded sport of drone flying, which requires a high speed, superior control, and excellent stability while navigating through 3D race tracks.

Commercial or Professional Drones

Models under this sub-category can vary primarily based on purpose. Some can be used as a general tool for aerial photography, aerial mapping, or roof inspection. Others have specialized payload capabilities or industry-specific software. Quads that can handle rigs for holding heavy-duty and expensive cameras employed in cinematography fall under the latter.

Types of Drones: Multirotor or Fixed Wings

While identifying drones this way seems more technical, it is actually the most simple. Here’s how you can differentiate between the two:

Multirotor Drones

Usually, we think of quadcopters or a rotorcraft with four rotors when we refer to drones. But this is just a sub-set of rotorcraft. This type of aircraft can generate lift through the use of rotary wings, such as a helicopter. To promote stability, a multirotor system employs multiple rotors, mostly four (and that’s how you arrive at quadcopters; if you have six, you get hexacopters; and so forth).

The bigger the drone, the more rotors it will require. The price point also tends to rise in this regard. Larger drones are typically used for industrial and professional work, such as aerial data mapping and high-quality cinematography.

Possibly the most popular example of multirotor drones/quadcopters is the DJI Phantom.

Fixed Wings

Based on the term, you can infer that it is referring to an aircraft that uses fixed, static wings – together with forward airspeed – to generate lift. Airplanes and paragliders fall under this category. Even a paper airplane can be considered fixed-wing.

One advantage would be a longer flight time and heavier payload. They can cover larger areas of land, which is useful in delivery, surveying, sending supplies to remote areas. 

The Parrot Disco (maximum flight time: 45 minutes) is one of the most famous models for this sub-set. If you want something more affordable, you can try the Hubsan Spy Hawk (maximum flight time: 30 minutes). For higher-end industrial work, there’s senseFly eBee Classic, which can last 50 minutes in the air.

In addition, you can find special types related to this sub-set: the single rotor drones and the hybrid VTOL.

Single Rotor Drones

You can spot these drones by their looks, which are not so different from helicopters. They sport one large main rotor with a small one on their tail. Even with fewer rotors, they perform longer in the skies than multirotor models. Why? Their secret lies in equipping them with gas engines. Of course, not all single rotor drones use gas. 

At the same time, the lower rotor count an aircraft has, the less amount of spin the unit has. This results in a more stable flight. So, a single rotor system can be more efficient than a multirotor system in this regard.

However, this type of drone can also pose a higher risk. If left in the hands of an inexperienced pilot, it can be handled incorrectly or gets involved in an accident. The results are not fatal, but it is better to undergo training before you attempt flying this one.

Hybrid VTOL

Hybrid VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) refers to the drone version that combines the best parts of rotor-based models and fixed-wing models. Thus, it has excellent hover and longer flying time. It is not exactly novel either as it has been around since the 1960s.

As its name suggests, it uses vertical take-off to lift itself. Then, it relies on accelerometers and gyros to keep itself up in the air. Remote manual or programmed controls are employed to guide them toward their destination. We found out that the drone being deployed for Amazon Prime delivery is of this type.

How about you? Have you encountered something like this before?

Types of Drones: Specialized According to Work

The following list is by no means exhaustive. Instead, we grouped the types of drones by industry based on this Markets and Markets research

Defense & Security

Drones can be used in aerial surveillance to ensure the security of a place or a group of people. This type applies to a wide range of missions, including inspections, tactical missions, and search and rescue operations.

Agriculture

UAVs are usually employed by farmers in improving crop production and growth. They can also be effective in soil and field analysis, seed planting, crop mapping and surveying, and livestock monitoring.

Logistics & Transportation

We mentioned the use of drones in transporting supplies in remote areas, starting with small packages, food, and medical supplies. There is also a potential for last-mile delivery, but regulations in the United States may prevent this from becoming a reality soon.  

Postal & Package Delivery

Same as above, there is a potential in this industry. Global postal firms are investing in drone delivery projects.

Health Care & Pharmacy

This is related to the delivery of medical supplies. But it can be expanded to payloads like lab samples, emergency medical equipment, and vaccines.

Retail & Food

Pizza delivery via Uber but using drones? It does not sound far-fetched anymore, but tech startups and courier companies are considering food and retail delivery.

Here are other industries included in the list:

  • Energy & Power
  • Power Generation
  • Oil & Gas
  • Construction & Mining
  • Media & Entertainment
  • Insurance
  • Wildlife & Forestry
  • Academics & Research

What is the Best Type of Drone?

Your purpose can help determine the best type of drone for you. Remember to narrow down the one you need via the three ways to differentiate drones from one another. You can actually tap into all of them to get a fuller understanding of the model you need. 

So, ask yourself if you need a recreational or a commercial drone. Then, should it be multirotor or fixed-wing? And finally, determine if your industry uses specialized drones for specific purposes. 

Of course, other factors and considerations can help you choose the right drone for you. But going through the types is a good place to start.

What are the Top 5 Drones?

It is not easy to choose from the confusing options out there. But here are our top picks based on a few categories:

Top Mini-Drones:

  • DJI Mavic Air
  • DJI Mavic Mini
  • Hubsan H122D X4 Storm
  • Eachine E58 Foldable RC Drone Quadcopter
  • Potensic A30 RC Mini Quadcopter

Top Beginner Drones:

  • DJI Mavic Mini
  • Ryze Tello
  • DJI Spark
  • Parrot Anafi FPV
  • Hubsan X4 Storm

Top Professional Drones:

  • DJI Mavic 2 Pro
  • DJI Phantom 4 RTK
  • DJI Inspire 2 
  • Freefly Alta 8
  • Ryze Tello

Top Budget Drones:

  • Ryze Tello
  • Potensic A30W Mini RC Nano Quadcopter
  • Holy Stone HS100 Navigator
  • Xiaomi Fimi A3
  • Syma X5C Explorers RC Quadcopter

History of Drones

While we are not exactly sure about the origins of drones, their first use is recorded as a military tool for aerial intelligence. They were deployed for surveillance over enemy territory because they could not be detected. And if they got detected and destroyed, they could be easily replaced. Soon enough, bombs were attached to them.

Outside of the military, consumer drones started with hobbyists putting together their own units. But these were still in the realm of professionals and experienced users. It’s only in 2010 that a company named Parrot introduced a consumer drone model that can be controlled using a smartphone.

But tech experts in the industry place the rise of prosumer drones in 2013 when DJI entered the picture. Since it was technically not a tool and a toy, it allowed the emergence of a new middle-ground type of drones.

The Future of Drones

In the United States, expect more regulation from the FAA. Drone projects require permission from the administrative office. But delivery drones may not yet be dropping pizza boxes or packages at your doorstep anytime soon. 

Amazon’s Prime Air is being tested in the United Kingdom instead. With other global companies testing their own drone projects elsewhere, too, this can expand to cover other products or services, such as medical supplies or power line repairs.

Meanwhile, flying cameras can still improve as a high-end tool for filmmakers and media practitioners. Developments in drone racing are also speeding up. 

But alongside these capabilities, people worry about the abuse attached to flying drones: privacy violations, spying, and tracking. On a related and interesting note, anti-drone products are also popping up. And they come in different forms, from nets and shotgun shells to radio-frequency jammers.

Conclusion

How do you feel about the future of drones? It’s pretty dope and promising, right? Still, some of the present applications can be a cause of worry for some people. Manufacturers, technologists, entrepreneurs, and regulators should strike a balance and prevent abuse.

And circling back to the different types, it actually helps to categorize drones in three different ways. The three perspectives allow us to choose a model that won’t fall flat in terms of performance, purpose fulfillment, and price, among others. You can explore the different dynamics involved in each type. In the end, you can end up with a drone that can be very valuable.

That should be the goal, right?

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