what is a drone

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve asked this same question at some point. You’ve heard this term on the news, come across it on the internet machine a few times, or heard about them from a friend or family member. It’s also possible that you know what a drone is, but want to understand the proper classification of a certain aircraft.

Look no further! This article is here to set the record straight:

Dictionary.com defines the noun “drone” as,

  • a low continuous humming sound
  • a male bee
  • a remote-controlled pilotless aircraft or missile

The third definition is relatively new. Drones in the aircraft sense have only been around since the 1970s. The biggest issue with this definition is that is wraps the aircraft drones together with the missile drones. Rest assured, the general public does not have access to missile drones. Here are the biggest differences between military and hobby drones:

The military has their own classification for drones. They are referred to as UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and RPAS (Remotely Piloted Aerial Systems). Their purpose is to venture to locations where manned flight is too difficult or too dangerous. A common design used today resembles an airplane roughly the size of a prop plane. These aircrafts can stay up in the air for up to 17 hours at a time, travel at speeds up to 240mph, sending intel back to base, and can strike suspected militants with their onboard GPS or laser-guided weapons.

military drone

The public does not fly or have access to these types of drones. The drones that you can see on YouTube are non-militarized and are often referred to by the industry as, sUAS (small Unmanned Aerial System), AUV (Autonomous Underwater Vehicle), Multirotor, Multicopter, Quadcopter, or Miniquad. These aircrafts are designed for recreational use and are most often equipped with a camera. Depending on their design, shape, and size, they can be allocated to activities like aerial photography, racing, thermal imaging, surveying, and mapping. The most common design stems from the efficient 4 motor shape (2 Clockwise, 2 Counterclockwise). Generally, the specs on these aircrafts are watered down compared to their militarized counterparts. 3DRobotics’ Solo, one of the most popular drones on the market, boasts flights times of 25 minutes, speeds up to 55mph, can fly autonomously via different Smart Shots, and contains a total of 0 laser-guided weapons to date.

inspire consumer drone

Although these two types of drones are bound by the same definition, their pilots, purpose, size, shape, and abilities are all completely different. The media often perpetuates the militarized version in a negative light, resulting in backlash and outrage within the public. When personal drones rose in popularity, the stigma carried over and confused a large percentage of people who had never seen one of these aircrafts before. Because of this, many hobbyists and enthusiasts first despised the word “drone” to describe their personal remote-controlled flying robot. Now many companies in the industry are using the word interchangeably–a way to take back the meaning of the word that was soiled by the news outlets.

Next time you see a reporter talking about drones overseas or drones being used by local film production companies, you’ll know the difference! Help spread the word 🙂