So you know you need a drone for your business. Great!
What’s not so good is the sheer variety of UAVs on the market. What should you be choosing to best suit your drone strategy? We take a look at the different types of drone features you will come across on any UAV, and how to choose the best drone to suit your business needs.
Quadcopter vs Hexacopter vs Octocopter vs Fixed Wing
So many choices! The number of rotors will define how many ‘arms’ your drone has. As the names suggest, a quadcopter has four rotors, a hexacopter six, and an octocopter eight. A fixed-wing drone has a more traditional aerofoil design of two wings.
The general thing to remember is the more rotors, the more stable and agile the drone. There is also a greater margin for redundancy, often meaning a hexacopter or octocopter can fly minus one rotor if something fails – at least to get it back to a safe landing spot.
So octocopters must be the best, right?
Well, usually, yes. But eight means far more expense, and if you’re not using your drone regularly or don’t need to take it into harsh weather conditions, you might not need as many rotors.
The other thing to remember here is that more arms = more weight. A heavier drone will usually mean shorter flight times and a less portable design. There are some exceptions (such as the Falcon 8), which allow you to fold in the arms for easy transport.
If you’re new to using drones for business and want to use a UAV for aerial photography or footage, a quadcopter (the most common design) is perfect. They are often lighter, easier to launch, and more portable than their larger cousins.
Above all that, they’re usually also much easier to fly than a hexacopter or octocopter – which is ideal for businesses new to using drones.
And what about fixed wing? These have very specific purposes, as the design is more aerodynamic but less flexible in terms of camera mount options. Drones such as the Geo-Mapper and the DATAHawk are fixed wing geodata gathering drones, perfect for land surveys thanks to very specific in-built sensors and cameras.
Joystick vs tablet drone controls
Drones can be flown with either a more traditional-feel joystick set-up, or a tablet-based controller. The tablet controller can either be a specific console designed solely for the drone, or an app for you to download onto your existing tablet (or even smartphone).
Joystick controllers are great for traditionalists (or Atari experts), and will often also include an integrated video screen for live streaming feeds from the drone.
A tablet controller for your drone can be more intuitive if it makes the most of accelerometer features, but a touch-sensitive screen is more fragile.
With the controller, it’s very much up to the individual pilot and what they’re comfortable with (or had their drone pilot training on).
This is something you’ll see a lot of, and the best thing to know is that the higher the number the better. It’s the maximum weight the UAV can take off, fly, and land safely with – so if you want to change the camera, add additional sensors or other technology, looking at the payload is a must.
Generally speaking, the heavier the drone the higher the payload. There are two reasons for this: heavier drones tend to be the hexacopters and octocopters, which have more rotors for added ‘oomph’, stability, and weight capability. The second reason is that smaller drones will often not have the customisable features of their big brothers, so are not designed to hold equipment other than the tech it comes with.
Maximum wind speed for your drone
If you’re planning on sending your drone into high altitudes (within your state regulations, of course), or use it in rugged environments, this is a particularly important item to consider. The maximum wind speed means the safest wind speed a drone can handle while maintaining a safe and steady flight.
It might still fly above the maximum wind speed, but it won’t deliver stable imagery and you’ll risk losing your drone in a gust.
Once again, the multi-rotor UAVs tend to win on this front, but it is still possible to use quadcopters in light wind speeds – such as the DJI Phantom which can withstand speeds up to 22mph. Not bad, eh!
Manual or fully autonomous drone flight?
Are you sending your drone across the same route every time, to build a time-lapse overview of an area? Or maybe you need to look at a difficult offshore repair and aren’t entirely sure where the drone needs to go. This is where manual and autonomous flight options come in. A fully autonomous option is great if you know the exact route the UAV is going to fly, and you can even set for an auto-take off and landing. This is fantastic if you’re new to using drones, or if your drone pilot isn’t very experienced yet.
However, a manual option is ideal for flights during which you’re not sure where the UAV is likely to fly. For example, if you’re surveying an emergency situation, you’ll need full control to fly the drone wherever you want, whenever you want. This requires more skill (especially to keep the drone steady if fully manual without GPS positioning switched on), but allows you to have full control in real-time for true flexibility and instant response.
You need to ask yourself: what are the key features you want in a drone? What are you going to use it for?
This will help determine your choice of drone. If you want to survey large areas of land in detail and produce high levels of statistical data, a fixed-wing drone designed for that use is perfect.
If you are flying in a marine environment to observe offshore operations, something like the Q-200 Aqua allows for belly-landing in water (not to mention the waterproofed tech on-board).
If you want to regularly take stunning aerial footage to show off your property, business assets, or film an event, then a drone that delivers a 360 view on a camera is a must.
If you need to monitor a rugged environment or conduct search and rescue operations, it’s likely you need something heftier than can withstand a more intense wind speed and weather conditions.
Choose the main one or two reasons that you want to use a drone for your business, and build your needs around that – it’s the best way to ensure you’re choosing the right drone for your business!