Oh, No. The drones are not like the once described extra-terrestrial flying saucers – the symbol of 1950 comics and mid-century science fiction. The drones are very real and very much the rave of the moment. A recent phenomenon.
You must have seen them in movies, or in real life. Here, we detail everything you need to know about these little flying robots or machines adorning the skies. They serve so many purposes and could definitely do a job for you! So, sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. It promises to be an interesting read!
Drones: what are they?
A drone is a remotely piloted aerial system. It’s that simple. Just imagine a flying machine or robot without someone inside it to pilot its affairs. They are usually small and have preprogrammed flight plans with great maneuverability. Drones are usually remote controlled and can be really technologically advanced. Even more so to the extent that the 1950s science fiction flying saucers are now a thing of reality!
The world drone has been popularized by the military, and it is not uncommon to see people associate it with large, weaponized military aircraft used for executing remote missions throughout the world. Perhaps, I find the more descriptive terms unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) or unmanned aerial system (UAS) which are commonly used by major industry players as more appreciative of the diverse applications these systems can be and are used for. Such as aerial photography, videography, and surveillance.
Drones: how do they work?
Granted, the technology behind drones is nothing new and has been here the whole time – think remote-controlled cars and airplanes. However, as simplified and easy these things may appear to be, there are a lot of complex technologies functioning in the background. Generally, the level of complexities depends on the purpose and uses of the drones. With military drones unsurprisingly equipped with advanced capabilities seeing that precision and efficiency is usually of paramount importance here. But our main focus is on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by hobbyist like you and me, and multipurpose.
A typical UAV is normally made with light material to reduce its weight and aid maneuverability. Depending on the particular grade, military UAVs are made with composite materials are which gives it strength and allows them to travel at high altitude. Common materials used are plastics, carbon fiber, fiberglass, aluminum, titanium, etc.
Drones: common technology
Most general purpose UAVs are based on helicopters. Quadcopters, as they are usually called, are propelled by four rotors which enable vertical lift and allow for hover-ability in a particular spot. The VTOL (Vertical Take-off and Landing) UAV technology is popular with many quadcopters. And just as the name implies, it can be launched in a stationary position and does not require a runway. On a quadcopter, two rotors work in tandem with each other, with a pair rotating clockwise and the other pair rotating anticlockwise. The propellers receive flight directions from flight controllers and electronic speed controller (ESC), and numerous other onboard sensors, all of which are crucial for navigation and control.
Drone: how does it fly?
Onboard the drone is a lot of different sensors and parts which can very extremely complex, working with one another. However, for the purpose of flying, we just can’t look past what is known as controllers. From launch to landing and landing of the drone and everything that’s in-between those two events we do it with the controller. They usually come in different shapes, sizes and capabilities.
The controllers, which are usually handheld are primarily the medium for communication with the UAV and generally utilizes radio waves as its channel. There are dedicated frequencies allocated for this, and communication models like Wi-Fi enable the user to operate the drone in real-time. As earlier stated, there are numerous onboard sensors which are responsible for interpreting the signals received from the controller and direct the drone accordingly. Some of these sensors are what you can find in smartphones like GPS, gyroscope and navigation systems, some of which are responsible for determining some physical parameters like the device position, location or altitude from the ground. The propellers are very important in this sense because their response to commands is seen in their speed and direction of rotation which in turn condition the drone for take-off, landing, or flying.
In essence, a drone is an intelligent unit which can accept commands and from the operator and make decisions accordingly. Flying them is usually easy, even kids play with this things! Nevertheless, more advanced UAVs can be more involved in terms of its control commands, which is expected because of the added functionalities.
Drones: what are they used for?
Slowly, but surely, we are now delving into the interesting stuff. Which is: why would you want to own a drone?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles find application in numerous areas. Perhaps, too many to mention. It’s technology so the potential is limitless and so are the possibilities. And it is growing – it areas applications – and nobody knows what it will be like in the near future.
Without looking too much into the future, here are some of the hot areas these flying machines are proving themselves useful by the day!
· Surveying, and mapping:
One very good features about drones is that they can be tweaked to suit specific purposes. Just think of a flying robot which can be equipped with spectral cameras and laser scanners, with which you can create high definition 3D maps. Think like this and you have for yourself a capable tool for surveying, mapping, and remote sensing.
· Search and rescue missions:
Again, it is easy to see how this would work superbly. Armed with a camera and motion sensors and the drone becomes a great device to have during search and rescue missions. They can cover large areas at a time, travel long distances, and access remote and dangerous areas. While the user can comfortably follow the progress on the display or monitor. Also, special detectors and sensors can be incorporated onboard. Detect people, metals, smoke, or gases, there is really no limit to what you can search for.
· Aerial Surveillance:
Similar to the above, a drone can be equipped with devices to which allows someone to monitor and record events from the sky. Events like carnivals, roadshows, public protests, can be monitored remotely without hindrance. In fact, policing is one area UAVs find a greater application.
Whether it is for private security or public policing, the use of drones can be employed to do a very good job. They are a great tool for coordinating emergency operations and gathering of evidence.
· Science, Research, and Exploration;
Drones can help scientist research and observe different natural occurrences such as volcanic eruption, and earthquakes. Also, when equipped with certain electromagnetic sensors, they help gather geological information to help geophysicists during exploration of mineral, oils and natural gas.
· Real Estate Marketing and Construction:
Land surveyor and property developers have been increasingly using UAVs to monitor from above construction projects using the imagery and video capabilities of these devices. Drones provide the ability to capture high-quality images of ongoing projects and compare progress to initial plans, and coordinate resources appropriately at the job sites. Images of houses, buildings, and other properties can be captured from above to help the marketing process.
· Disaster Management and Relief Delivery:
One very important and widely applicable area of drones is relief delivery and disaster management. Some drones are big enough, especially the fixed-wing type to carry a considerable amount of medicine, food, and clothing supplies to otherwise unreachable disaster-ravaged and war-torn zones. Due to their usually small size, remote places can be accessed, and multiple of them can be deployed without worrying about persons to man them.
· Aerial photography:
Aerial photography is one of the most rewarding applications of drones used presently by photographers and hobbyist alike. Most of the more traditional type of photography have areas for which they are more suitable. Aerial photography gives photographers the opportunity of covering breathtaking vistas, landscapes, flora, waters, and events with huge crowd such as carnivals, trade shows, musical concerts, etc. UAVs are also finding wide applications in videography and cinematography. Sports events like snowboarding and skiing are also covered from the sky.
· The fun of flying:
Not everyone will ever fly a plane or the likes. Hence, let’s not forget the fun part involve that we actually get to fly something. The prospect of being a pilot for as long as one wants cannot easily be passed up. So, don’t be surprised to see people who own drones just for the fun of flying. It can also use for sports and recreation too. Drone racing is one popular sport that has been gaining wide acceptance among the populace. It is just like playing a racing video game. But here, you’re not going to be controlling some computer CGI, you’re actually controlling the real thing!
Drones: the different types
We are actually going to run into some trouble trying to classify drones seeing that there are different models, types, makers, features, prices and all serving different purposes. But classify we must. And size is the best criterion to use. That’s the only way we can group the 101 of them out there. So, here we go:
· Nano and Mini size group:
Here, you find the smallest group of drones you can find on the market. The Nano drones are the smallest, and their dimensions can be as small as that of an insect. The mini is bigger and packed with better features and more powerful motors when compared to the nano. They are popular in the market and available to the average customer, but, their miniature size makes them the perfect spy buddies for the military.
· Small size group:
The small size drones have a dimension between 50cm and 2 meters. They are popular on the market and are most appealing to hobbyists. They are packed with greater features compared to the previous group and can fly within 20 minutes to 40 minutes in a single flight.
· Medium size group
This group includes drones with a wingspan between 5 and 10m. There are powerful enough to carry up to 200kg. They can travel far, as far as 50km and can stay in flight for up to 6 to 7 hours, making them perfect for delivering aids, transporting goods and partaking in military operations. Their size, cost, and purpose make them unsuitable for individuals to own.
· Big size group:
They are usually fixed wing and have a wingspan of more than 10 meters. They are actually as big as small aircraft. Hence, they are seen as aircraft themselves. A private individual cannot normally own one, and therefore, their features are geared towards military operations like weapons and missiles delivery, tactical attacks or weather forecasting. They can travel for many hours and at high altitudes. They are easily regarded as small aircraft without a pilot.
Drones: buying or building them?
To buy or to build? This is one question that is not so simple to answer, and you’ll find that the drone community is split into two sides. And for good reasons too, it must be said.
However, when it gets to the question of piecing your own drone together or buying off the shelf, which one becomes most suitable depends on what you’re going to be using it for. We present both cases nicely…
The case for buying:
If you want something to fly around and take great videos, photos, and selfies and you’re not too interested in the nitty-gritty of drone technologies, then there is absolutely no need for you to go through building from scratch. There are a lot of Ready-to-Fly (RTF) drones out there that gets you in the air in no time.
Another type you’ll likely encounter on the market is the Bind-and-Fly (BNF) model which comes already assembled but just missing the controller.
And there are the Almost-ready-to-Fly (ARF) models out there are drone kits which might exclude components like the motors, ESCs or even batteries. The definition of the ARF kit is quite broad and it is advisable you read the descriptions carefully before purchasing.
Quickly, we summarize the pros of buying a drone readymade.
· Ready to fly:
Out of the bag! All you need do is charge the battery, attach the camera, and fasten the propellers and you’re ready to fly.
· Economically the better choice:
If you’re looking to build a similar model with similar characteristics with an RTF option, it will cost you more money.
· Requires little or no technical knowledge
Purchasing a drone or anything requires no technical knowledge of it. Obviously, this is not the case if you’re building one yourself.
· After sale support
One of the clever reasons why you should consider buying an RTF model. If and when you run into problems, the manufacturer is there to help you out. Also, your warranty covers damages during the period as long as your handling of the equipment is not responsible for the damages. You don’t get this kind of support if your drone is self-made.
· Compatibility and performance:
Buying a working drone out of the bag saves you the trouble of dealing with compatibility issues and performance. Your drone is not guaranteed to fly as smooth if you assemble different components together without enough experience of flying a drone.
The case for building:
When you start flying drones, it will get to a point where you’ll start seeing places where you’d wish little improvements can be made to make the device perfect. And you’ll be ready to move mountains to have them done if you can! That’s the logic behind building your own drone: modification and customization. So, if you’re comfortable soldering, assembling things, screwing things, and you understand the technicalities of flying a drone, there is no reason why you should not consider building your drone from scratch.
· Your knowledge is broadened:
There is no doubt you’ll understand deeply how a drone works and what it means to fly one. Also, simple to medium problems you’ll encounter you’d be able to fix or source for replacement parts easily if you did all the work to build it in the first place.
A lot of readymade drones are designed to perform some varieties of tasks sufficiently well, but you can take it to a whole different level if you decide to build one with a similar profile. You can equip yours with a DSLR camera to take still photographs while still rendering it extremely maneuverable than anything one could find on the market.
· It could be fun:
The process of sourcing for parts, watching tutorial videos online, designing something that’s unique, fixing things, soldering things, programming the remote controller and watching your efforts come into fruition can be fun and brings an indescribable feeling of achievement.
Buying or building: the verdict
We can see that what you benefit by buying a readymade drone is actually what you lose if you decide to build your own. And the pros of building from scratch is the cons of buying a Ready-to-fly kit off the market.
We advise first time owners to get RTF drones so that they can get into the fun as quickly as possible and not drain themselves out with the trouble of building one. You gain more experience as you fly your drones and areas of where improvements can be made are easily identified. Hence, the next logical step would then be to build one where all or most of the good things that are missing in your previous ones are incorporated into the design.
Drones: trending in 2019
If you’d like to fly drones but don’t know where to start, keep reading as we profile some popular drones in 2018, from entry budget to high end, and what you are likely going to be using it for.
Trending Racing Drones
Just as the name suggests, a racing drone is primarily designed for racing purposes. They can be really fast, with some traveling up to 60 miles per hour. When it comes to racing, most hobbyists prefer building their own. However only go through that route if you’ve some kind of experience before with RTF models.
There are impressive racing drones on the market. The Arris X-Speed FPV 250 drone comes to mind. It is one of the best racing drones anywhere, anytime. For something cheaper, the Fat Shark 101 fits the bill perfectly. Included in the kit is everything you’ll need to get started. Other great options included the Oori and UVify Draco.
Trending Aerial Photography Drones
Aerial photography is one area drones find a great application. Hence, there are a lot of options to choose from. The DJI PHANTOM 3 Pro is one of the best drones on the market. It is a high-end drone made from highly durable aluminum and plastics. And it is incredibly light. Everything that’s needed for your first flight is included. However, the biggest draw with the DJI PHANTOM 3 Pro is the 4K camera. Making photos and videos from the air is like a breeze!
DJI is the leader when it comes to making drones with a camera. They have great entry level to the high-end solution for TV and film. The GoPro’s Karma drone is another superb camera drone with the added advantage that the camera is detachable. While the DJI Mavic Air is a great option if you’re looking for something that can fit into a backpack.
Trending Toy drones
Toy drones are the perfect places to start if you want to get in the air as quickly as possible. The Hubsan X4 is a low priced option with considerable capabilities. While the Syma X5C is popular in the drone community because you can easily find parts in the market and it is packed with a pretty modest camera for only $40-$45.
If you want to fly indoors, look no further than the Minidrones. The Aerix Vidius HD comes to mind. This model comes with altitude support that lets you concentrate on directional controls while it watches out for the ceiling for you!
So… there you go! Your crash course Drone 101 is over. And you’re ready to fly. Go flying!