So what’s this drone business all about…?
So, you’ve seen all the news about these flying machines that seem to be causing a stir in the technology scene and beyond and you want to maybe break into this new world but not sure where to start? Well then look no further as this short introduction to drones leads you through the most important aspects that you need to know (and what to buy if you’re persuaded).
Firstly, I’ll go into a bit of a promo on the drone world to whet your appetites (and because I really do think it’s pretty great). The flying platform has really expanded the world of amateur and professional film making worldwide. It is now a fairly simply task to get incredible aerial footage of amazing landscapes with a few clicks and pushes of buttons. Of course, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV or drones) can be used for a whole range of applications and we’re going to explore to some degree some of these usages. From a film makers point of view, UAVs are an incredible device to achieve fantastic footage that was before unattainable. A tool such as a drone means that photographers/film makers can now achieve almost all of what their creativity can imagine.
However, a drone is, of course, a complicated piece of kit and so the users creativity is not only used, but their mechanical and software engineering skills also (if they choose to). In one relatively small package, the UAV brings together the creative and engineering world together in perfect harmony (cue the fan fares).
Just because it flies doesn’t make it a drone
When people say drone, what do they actually mean? This word is more and more regularly being banded about in day-to-day life but are we using the words correctly? The generally agreed consensus on the criteria of a drone is that it can fly without human control (or beyond the line of sight). Generally, if the pilot has to manually control the aircraft all the time, it is not a drone but just a radio-controlled toy. The technical definition may not be the most important aspect to know about a drone, but I just thought I’d get it out of the way so we can continue in a more knowledgeable fashion.
Fixed Wing or Multi-rotor?
Let’s start with the two categories of a drone; you can get a fixed-wing drone and a multirotor drone. Below there is picture of the two side by side. Briefly, a multirotor drone is one with multiple motors (4 in the case below), and a fixed-wing drone is one with one motor which propels a body made of strengthened foam. This is different to a multirotor as these are generally constructed from a plastic body. For more info on what makes up a drone, please see our anatomy of a drone article.
The type of drone used generally depends on what the user wants to do with it. We’ll go into what type is used for what in the next section.
What can a drone be used for?
As I’m sure you’re aware, up until relatively recently, drones had very negative connotations with destruction within the military. However, rapid developments in this area led to a breakthrough into the public sphere and drones can now also be used for good! There are many applications now and we can, with most things in life, categorise the applications into work and play. There is almost an endless list of applications of drones that come under the ‘work’ section, including mapping and inspection, and there has been talk recently of delivery drones. Under the ‘play’ section, we have such things as simply the joy of flying (the most basic but awesome use of drones) and such activities as First-Person-View (FPV) racing. To find out more about the applications, see our ‘5 Core Applications of Drones’ article.
Self-build or Ready-to-Fly (RTF)?
If you’ve got this far, you’re probably quite interested in getting into the drone field (as it were) yourself. There are two main and very basic options that you need to consider here; do you want to build your drone yourself, or would you rather have a ready-to-fly (RTF) drone straight out of the box? To read more into this topic, please see our Self-Build VS Ready-To-Fly post.
I think you’ll pretty much know straight away if you’re in this category or the other. To build the drone yourself, you obviously have to get to grips with all the separate components to be able to put them all together in a mean, lean (and functional) drone. If delving a bit more into the technical side of the equipment doesn’t appeal to you and you just want to fly, RTF looks ideal for you.
The benefits of a self-build? Well personally, I believe that the biggest advantage of building your own drone is the sense of achievement you feel after completing the job (a bit cheesy I know but true). If you’re new to the field, it may take you a long time, you may become frustrated more than once, but you will definitely be proud of the finished product. You’ll also be more educated and, of course, you can build a drone for cheaper than buying a RTF one that works straight out of the box.
On the flip side, the RTF options nowadays are pretty awesome. The most popular (and best) RTF drones that are on the more affordable side are the Phantom series from DJI,
So, what do these RTF drones offer? Firstly, they come with lots of cool features that can be used for aerial photography. They either come with a camera and gimbal (camera stabilising unit) pre-attached, or you can buy them as an add-on, and you can get up in the air and taking awesome photos within about an hour (around the time it takes to charge the battery) of receiving the drone. The features that often now come as standard are Follow-Me, Point-of-Interest, Waypoints. Briefly, these are, in order, the ability to follow the controller of the drone (that you will be holding), the ability to circle around a point of interest and the capacity to follow a pre-determined path (set out by you). All of these are done by the drone completely autonomously after you press ‘go’. These are pretty cool features of RTF drones as I’m sure you’ll agree but please keep in mind that all of the above (and more) can be done with a self-built drone (it just takes a bit more time).
So, Self-Build or RTF?
This decision clearly depends on what you want our of your drone. If you want a DIY project as well as a flying drone, then self-build may be the way to go. If, however, you just want to get in the air and don’t mind parting with more cash, RTF is perhaps the option for you. To fund out more on this topic, please see our Self-Build VS Ready-To-Fly article.