From their introduction to the commercial and private sector in the first two decades of the 21st century, drones have made quite a name for themselves.
Drones have been visible everywhere, from simply hobbyists, taking their drones for a spin in local parks, to satire-rich television shows, showing drones as the future of home delivery, there is no denying it: drones are everywhere.
From television series playfully mocking the idea of drones delivering groceries and other goods, to the 6 o’clock news showing the latest drone being developed by the military, drones are on the radar of most developed countries.
Although the word itself might bring to mind a plane-like structure, there are actually a host of different designs currently on the market.
These designs were created for different preferences: speed versus stability, for instance, or portability versus stamina.
To understand the true furor with which drones have been introduced to the technology market, an understanding of the different types and uses of drones is vital.
Before diving deep into the different types of drones currently on the market, let’s first identify what exactly a drone is.
What Is a Drone?
The term “drone” can be somewhat vague.
After all, the basic definition of “drone” is simply “an unmanned aircraft” or “unmanned aerial vehicle” (also called a UAV).
Using this small, narrow definition, there are a litany of devices that could be considered drones that are not included in a modern understanding of the word.
To rectify the potential issue with this simplified version of what constitutes a drone, it is perhaps more appropriate to say that a drone is an unmanned aircraft that is navigated or programmed by an operator apart from the machine.
Some drones are operated using pre-programmed settings that direct movements, but drones are most commonly operated via a remote control, whether they are being used for personal or commercial purposes.
Although drones were once linked primarily to military operations, they are no longer considered military objects.
Instead, drones can be purchased by just about anyone, whether their intentions are to use the drone in their backyard on a sunny day, or to use drones as a means to surveil their business’ property.
In this article we are going to explain what are all the types of drones that currently exist.
The precise image that comes to mind when you hear the word “drone” differs from person to person.
Some immediately conjure an image of the infamous drone utilized by the U.S. government.
Others immediately think of the four-propeller drones frequently seen occupying backyards.
Regardless, there are actually a handful of standard types of drones: single rotor, multi-rotor, fixed-wing, and fixed-wing hybrid drones, in addition to all of the different types of drones designed for specific personal and commercial uses.
A single rotor drone is the least common personal-use drone, and its design strongly resembles the design of a helicopter, with a single, large rotor at the top of the drone, and an additional rotor at the back of the drone’s “tail.”
These drones are not as popular as their counterparts, in part because of their complexity and associated hazards.
Single rotor drones are extremely hardy, and can carry extremely heavy items, and navigate long distances, but they are quite complex, mechanically, and have been known to cause injury and experience damage during use, if careful maintenance procedures are not followed.
Single rotor drones have most often been used to deliver large packages, such as medical supplies, and although they have been used for personal enjoyment, they are not recommended for this purpose.
Single rotor drones are typically best used in a military or large-scale commercial environment.
Multi-rotor drones are the most common drones found for personal use.
This is because multi-rotor drones are the most lightweight, and easy to use drones.
These drones allow for smooth and simple landing, and can even be used to place a small camera and shoot footage over short periods and lower heights.
Multi-rotor drones are also fairly easy to learn how to use, and navigation is usually conducted using a simple, straightforward remote control.
Multi-rotor drones can be seen in both commercial and personal use and may be made of a variety of materials, though personal use machines are typically made of plastic.
Due to their lightweight nature, most multi-rotor drones are not used in large commercial or military applications, though smaller drones of this design might be used to gather information and capture images for military and commercial purposes.
Fixed-wing drones are the drones that are most often associated with military use.
They resemble unmanned airplanes in their design, though the lack of onboard pilot and passengers makes fixed-wing drones appear to be slightly flattened, small airplanes.
Fixed-wing drones are prized for their ability to go great distances, and are also known for their smooth rising and landing techniques.
They are preferred for people who are looking for precision machines, and have been used to take footage, measure land and gather information, and conduct airstrikes, when they are used by the military.
Fixed-wing drones are utilized in a host of applications, and are arguably the second most common type of drone sought after for personal or hobbyist use.
They offer a sleeker and more streamlined design than other drone types, making them ideal for those in need of a smooth and easy to use device.
Fixed-Wing Hybrid Drones
The newest and least common drones currently on the market, fixed-wing hybrids are considered ideal drones for their fusion of the positive aspects of fixed-wing drones and multi-rotor drones.
These drones are quite lightweight, but are more stable and direct than designs that utilize multi-rotor styling alone, and some have considered this new iteration of drone the best possible design available for drones used for a variety of applications, including persona, commercial, and military use.
As the name suggests, nano-drones are extremely small drones that can fit within the palm of a pilot’s hand.
These drones are designed to pack a great deal of functionality and purpose into a small package, and have even seen success as a source of military reconnaissance.
Nano-drones may be used as recreational drones, to either take photos or videos, or simply pilot in open areas, but they can also be used for commercial interests.
Nano-drones are among the latest in drone technology improvements, and are widely regarded as the next step in military and personal drone use, alike.
Miniature drones are similar to nano-drones, but they are typically larger than the palm, or just larger than an individual’s hand.
Miniature drones are the most common drones used and enjoyed for personal pursuits, and they can be used for different situations, including photography/videography, hobbyist pursuits, and racing.
Miniature drones are usually lightweight and easy to transport, and are the drones most frequently used during travel.
Miniature drones may offer the most diverse design options, as their small size makes maneuvering far easier, and can make single and multi-rotor systems work extremely well.
Fixed-wing designs are less common in miniature drones, as their light weight is more effectively supported and held aloft by multiple rotors.
From photography to racing, the portability and lightweight nature of miniature drones make them the most popular types of drones currently on the market.
Many places—the United States included—do require you to register miniature drones, provided that their weight exceeds 0.55 pounds.
Nevertheless, drone registration is typically a simple and easy process, and operating a miniature drone is a great way to introduce the world of drones into your life.
The largest drones on the market span up to 50-60 feet.
These drones are typically designed for use in commercial and military operations, as they cannot be safely and appropriately handled for personal use.
In most areas, there are hefty restrictions placed on acceptable sizes for drones, with the most common limit being 55 pounds for personal or professional use.
Large drones can be extremely hazardous during use, should a drone breach restricted airspace, crash, or suddenly lose power, and large drones are not approved for use in most countries, apart from those given special permissions by local, state, and even federal governments.
Due to their large size, most large drones embody a design similar to that of a helicopter or airplane, and it is common to see either single-rotor or fixed-wing drones in large drone designs.
Reconnaissance drones are typically smaller than combat and tactical drones, and are designed with a single purpose in mind: gathering information.
These drones differ widely in the different designs that are available, and may include single-rotor, multi-rotor, fixed-wing, or fixed-wing hybrid drones, as different uses will require different designs.
Long-distance reconnaissance missions, for instance, are more likely to use single-rotor or fixed-wing drones.
Although recon drones are most commonly used in military and commercial purposes, they have also been marketed for personal use.
Recon drones can be used to gather information around other teams’ tactics, and other information that can benefit you personally, but their use is often prohibited, if people are not aware that they are being filmed or evaluated.
Before using a personal recon drone, check with local law enforcement to learn about all rules and regulations.
Combat drones are among the most popular drones initially used by the military, as they allowed the military to conduct covert missions and investigations without putting pilots at risk.
Combat drones are usually large, with fixed wings, but there are also fixed-wing hybrids that have been used as combat drones for different military operations.
Combat drones are among the largest drones currently in development, with lengths often spanning well over 30 feet.
Unlike small commercial and personal use drones, these devices are designed for long-term use, and are equipped to handle trips of over 1,000 miles.
With power of 14 hours or more per trip, combat drones are truly formidable pieces of equipment in military operations, and continue to grow and develop as vital entities in modern military operations.
These drones are typically used in military operations, as well, but are used to surveil an area, or gather tactical information, rather than carrying out any wartime efforts or engage with enemy aircraft.
Tactical drones are usually smaller than combat drones, but significantly larger than small or mini drones.
They may span the length of an average person’s height, and extend from 3-5 feet.
Tactical drones are often fixed-wing drones or single-rotor drones as both of the options allow for plenty of stability during use, and are comprised of highly durable materials.
Tactical drones are designed for use by military personnel, and come in a price point that is much higher than personal use drones.
These drones are not typically approved for use by the general population, as they may pose a safety hazard.
Not terribly unlike the once-ubiquitous Google cards driving around the globe, mapping drones are increasingly used to create accurate graphs and maps of a given area, improving GPS capabilities and improving the effectiveness and accuracy of local navigation systems.
These drones are typically used as a commercial entity, as there is little use for them in private use.
Mapping drones (also called GPS drones) can be used to help navigate a given city area, but they can also be used by owners of large swaths of land and even by surveying professionals to help determine the basic boundaries of a piece of land.
Mapping drones are usually small, but easily drain their batteries.
Because the sheer volume of data being gathered is immense, most mapping drones are only operational for 30 minutes at a time, and may be pre-programmed to return to their origin point once battery life begins to diminish.
This helps ensure that tasks are completed as efficiently as possible, without running the risk of losing an expensive piece of equipment.
Although you do not have to have a dedicated racing drone to effectively race, there are drones that have been designed specifically for the purpose of racing.
Racing drones are designed with speed in mind, and are often characterized by multi-rotor systems.
Racing drones can be used by hobbyists or individuals racing for money, but are designed to operate at speeds at or exceeding 100 MPH.
For this reason, racing drones must be registered, and must carefully adhere to all safety regulations set worth by the FAA.
Close-range drones are drones that are designed to be used very close to their pilots.
RTF drones are usually close-range drones, as are trick drones and nano-drones.
Close-range drones are usually the style of drone utilized by drone hobbyists, and pilots can expect these drones to stay within 3 miles of their operator, with up to 45 minutes of battery life.
Close-range drones are usually those registered for personal use, and can be used for simple pleasure, or may be used for photography and videography.
Mid-range drones can typically extend as far as 400 miles away from their operator or base.
Mid-range drones are not hobbyist drones, but are often used for GPS data gathering and scientific exploration.
Mid-range drones typically have a more extensive battery life to accompany the larger range abilities, and are almost exclusively used for data gathering purposes. These drones are not available for personal purchase, and require special licensure for use.
Created to go the greatest distance, endurance drones are manufactured for travel.
The most common example of an endurance drone is a combat or tactical drone, as both of these are often required to cover great distances and remain in the air for upwards of 10+ hours.
Endurance drones also require special licensing, and must be operated by professionals with training in drone operation.
Ready to Fly (RTF) Drones
Ready to Fly drones are exactly what they sound like: drones that simply need to be charged in order to fly.
Many drones come with a complicated series of parts that must be assembled prior to use, or come equipped with different components that can change the way the drone is used or operated.
RTF drones circumvent these complicated components and requirements, and are often used as the ideal introductory drones.
RTF drones are also frequently used for children and younger drone pilots, as they do not usually require a great deal of in-depth knowledge or technique.
RTF drones are also frequently the least expensive drones on the market.
Because they do not have a lot of moving parts and extraneous equipment, RTF drones provide plenty of “bang for your buck,” as they introduce you to the world of drones without a great deal of monetary investment or the need to thoroughly investigate the piloting process for standard use drones.
Limited primarily to hobbyists, trick drones are designed for personal use, and are aptly named: trick drones perform tricks, such as rolls and spins.
These drones are used for entertainment purposes, and are usually extremely lightweight in design.
These drones are often given as gifts to younger drone enthusiasts who are new to the world of drones, and who are more entertained or enthralled by spectacle than ability.
Some drones are designed for use within water, whether they are full submerged in water, or are being operated in wet conditions (though it should be noted that many countries prohibit the use of drones in wet weather due to reduced visibility).
Waterproof drones are typically used for underwater photography or wet-weather photography, and they may be used by weather stations and meteorologists to gather images during storms, or by researchers looking to secure images of underwater locations.
Waterproof drones and water resistant drones are two separate entities, and special care should be taken to ensure that you do not mistakenly submerge a drone that is merely water resistant.
Waterproof drones are not terribly common among hobbyists, but some companies do provide waterproof drones designed for personal use.
Inspection drones are designed to be used in tight, enclosed spaces without risking harm to the drone’s body.
These drones are usually encased in a tight metal or plastic case, which allows it to move through small spaces and bump into tight corners without causing any damage to the drone or impairing its flight.
Inspection drones are typically used for commercial purposes, as they can safely and effectively navigate crowded, dark, or enclosed spaces and conduct inspections without risking the health and safety of dedicated inspectors.
Drone Types and Your Needs
There are four basic types of drones, but as the technology continues to grow and evolve, there are sure to be countless drone designs and innovations.
For simple home use and basic commercial use, for instance, multi-rotor drones are popular and efficient.
For more heavy-duty needs that require speed and precision, fixed-wing drones are ideal.
Fixed-wing hybrids and single rotor drones are the two least commonly used drones, but these, too, have their purpose and can prove themselves extremely helpful for commercial, private, and military use.
Drones are a new and exciting technology, and although some iteration of drone has been used in a military capacity for at least 70 years, the continuing proliferation of private and commercial drones invites exciting innovations in the realm of delivery systems, surveillance, and information gathering, which is used in a range of applications, from large-scale surveillance to simple land surveying.
No matter your needs, there is likely to be a drone to match your purposes.