Common drone types and capabilities

Drones, which are also known by other names such as unmanned aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles, come in many sizes and styles, and are widely available for purchase around the world. The most common types of drones that are designed primarily for recreational and commercial use come in a wide variety of sizes and capabilities, with prices ranging from well under $50 to well over $1,000. The following overview discusses the kinds of capabilities and technologies used by many of the most popular drone models.

Common features - The following features are found on many of the drones that consumers are likely to find on both entry level drones and more complex and expensive drones:

Quadcopter design: This design uses four helicopter-type rotors or propellers to provide both lift and directional control.

Dedicated controller: These devices use radio signals to send commands to the drone, and are typically powered by non-rechargeable batteries.

Rechargeable batteries: These batteries, which usually have to be charged before each flight, are removable, and are charged using an adapter that plugs into an electrical outlet like a USB port or wall socket. Drones would nearly always have rechargeable batteries, and controllers may have non-rechargeable batteries.

Extra propellers: Even the most inexpensive drones come often come with one or more complete sets of replacement propellers.

Flight control system: Even entry level drones have some level of automated flight control that helps the drone maintain controlled flight. The amount of control, and how much the user can program or vary that control, will depend on the drone.

Minimal protection from water: The electronics in most consumer drones, and their drone controllers, are not protected from water damage, so flying them in rainy conditions may lead to serious electrical problems.

Entry level drones
The smallest drones can weigh less than four ounces (112 gm) and can fit in the palm of your hand. These kinds of drones typically have a limited operating range, with the controllers usually able to control the drone over short distances, typically less than 100 meters (328 feet). The rechargeable batteries in these drones will likely allow around 10 minutes of flying time.

Entry level with extras
For a little more money, you can usually get one or more of the following extras with an operating range and endurance similar to an entry level drone:

Video recording: Built-in camera with the recording saved on a removable flash memory card such as a micro SD card.

Additional controller options: Typically, this option would be a smartphone based app.

First-person view (FPV) capability: The view from the drone's camera is streamed to either the controller or a smartphone or tablet

Extended range and endurance: Higher capacity batteries and motors, along with an improved communications system, allows the drone to fly higher and for more flight time.

Advanced navigation and photography
Beyond the entry level drones that are primarily used for recreation are the drones with capabilities that would be useful to a wide range of professions and businesses. These drones combine the ability to record professional quality photographic and visual imagery as well as several of the following features:

Controllable camera: Camera operation, including where the camera is pointed, can be commanded from the ground.

Greater performance: Ability to fly twenty minutes or more at altitudes exceeding several hundred feet, as well as being able to operate over 1000 meters (0.62 miles).

Satellite navigation: Ability to GPS and other satellite-based navigation systems such as GLONASS.

Greater flight planning options: A combination of satellite navigation capability and a programmable flight planning system allows the drone to fly sophisticated flight profiles.

Autonomous operation: Capabilities may include the ability to return to takeoff point if controller loses contact with the drone, the ability to automatically follow a moving target, and the ability avoid collisions with obstacles.

Additional drone resources

Common drone types and capabilities -- Revised 18 September 2016