Quadcopters and drones are words often used interchangeably. While both commonly refer to uncrewed air vehicles, there are still a few factors that help us differentiate between the two. And you’ll need to be aware of them to correctly use the two words in conversation.
This post is about helping you do just that.
I’ll be clarifying how exactly a drone may be distinct from a quadcopter (hint: it depends on the context). We also move onto other types of drones and explore their features to identify what exactly makes each of them uniquely purposeful.
Most of us have come to learn about drones as aircraft that are popular due to their versatility, efficiency, and cost-effectiveness. But, how exactly are they defined?
A drone is an aircraft that doesn't require hands-on maneuvering and is operated by a remote pilot. Typically resembling a miniature airplane or helicopter, drones are usually equipped with cameras, sensors and other electronic devices that help them capture data and images from the air.
So, if a relatively small, remote-controlled air vehicle buzzes past you, it’s safe to say you came across a drone.
Drones are also more formally called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). That’s a more self-explanatory word. If you’re interested in what various words used in the drone community stand for and how they’re defined, I’d recommend checking the complete drone glossary.
You might be wondering how drones got their name in the first place. It's actually an interesting story that has its origins in the second world war.
Drones were originally called remotely piloted vehicles (or RPVs) and simply created as targets for shooting practice in World War 2. Their name was then changed to what we’re familiar with today, inspired by drone bees, which are larger than worker bees.
Now, you might be left a little confused. What do bees have to do with drones?
Well, there’s one way to explain that analogy.
Drones (as in the male honey bees) live in a sort of mindless existence, with only one purpose in mind, that is to impregnate the queen.
This is much like drones (as in the aircraft), that don't have a mind of their own, and are remotely controlled instead.
So, before RPVs became drones, the latter only referred to male honey bees and male honey bees only. It’s because of their roundabout similarity in flight (and how both inescapably emit buzzing sounds) that the transition in terminology was made.
It must be confusing not to know what’s what without prior knowledge from within the drone community. If that’s the position you’re in, this might ease up the tension a bit.
A quadcopter is the most popular type of drone and is what a random drone is most likely to look like, which is why people tend to overlap the two. Additionally, people prefer to use the less technical-sounding term in “drone” as all quadcopters obviously are drones.
However, there is much more to drones than just quadcopters.
We’ll be delving into other types of drones later on in this post.
Before we start diverting our attention elsewhere, it’s important to understand how quadcopters work themselves. This’ll help you better understand the differences between all of the drone types.
So, here’s a brief look at what the mechanics of quadcopters are.
A quadcopters has four rotors and propellers, two of them that rotate clockwise and two of them anticlockwise. This eliminates the use of a tail engine that provides no useful power in lifting the vehicle.
Put simply, most of quadcopter movement is directly related to the speed of its rotors.
For example, if it’s being controlled to move forward, the speed of the front rotors is slowed down and the rear rotors are sped up. This tilts the drone in the forward direction and allows it to proceed.
For altitude control, the speed of all four rotors is increased or decreased simultaneously. An increase would generate more lift, while a decrease would reduce lift.
A quadcopter is also equipped with sensors and accelerometers to provide information about its orientation and movement, allowing for safety and reliability during movement control.
These and more of its sophisticated mechanics give the quadcopter many advantages over other types of drones, most of which come in the form of its balance.
However, it’s not perfect in all areas. There are some drawbacks to it that must not be overlooked.
One way to categorize drones is through the number of propellers drones have. With that in mind, here’s what the different types of drones are.
The different types of drones are single-rotor drones, tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, octocopters, and fixed-wing drones. However, drones can also be categorized in a number of other ways based on their design, functionality, intended use, and more.
Let's take a look at each type of drone and see what they have to offer.
These drones are increasingly used for military and industrial purposes. However, single rotor drones do have some unique features that distinguish them from other types of drones that might pique your interest.
This includes their design that resembles a helicopter, having one rotor at the top and a tail rotor that controls direction.
Single-rotor drones offer a wide variety of movements including flipovers, rolls and loops.
This also makes the drone harder to control and more suitable for skilled remote pilots rather than beginners. Here are a few pros and cons for you to have a look at, if you’re considering buying one for commercial use.
When talking about tricopter drones, we are talking about a unique kind of drone, due to its design and manufacturing.
Tricopter drones have three rotors and propellers, parallel to one another. Like other multirotor drones, tricopters have the ability to rotate around their vertical axis, which they achieve by tilting their rear rotors, unlike quadcopters which use differential thrust.
Their unique structure gives them some distinct advantages and disadvantages over other drones. Let’s have a look at a few of them.
Larger and more powerful than their smaller counterparts, hexacopters have their own set of properties and functions for which they can be used.
Hexacopters are drones that have rotors arranged in a hexagonal configuration. These drones are quite versatile where they can be used to perform a variety of functions in different industries.
These include agriculture and construction industries. In fact, they’re used to carry out search operations by the military as well as general surveillance for law enforcement.
What really sets them apart from drones with fewer propellers, in my opinion, is their ability to land safely even with a motor failure.
Their larger power and size bring their own set of pros and cons. Have a look at a few of them.
The conversation about multirotors would be left incomplete if we didn’t talk about this big guy.
Octocopters are drones with eight rotors and propellers, arranged either in an octagonal structure or a square with four on the top and four on the bottom.
They are highly stable drones that continue working even with failed motors (yes, plural), something we observe only in larger drones.
Their strength allows them to be used for numerous functions that are lift-intensive and be equipped with additional features to increase their versatility. However, greater strength does lead to greater complexities.
Let’s have a look at a few pros and cons of octocopters.
Since there’s been a lot of talk about multi-rotor drones, here’s a little synopsis about this winged beauty right here.
Fixed-wing drones resemble the likes of an airplane, and use similar mechanisms for flying, with wings designed to generate an aerodynamic lift.
It is typically larger than multi-rotor drones and is capable of flying at higher altitudes and covering large areas of surveillance. This makes it ideal for use in agriculture!
Due to its different design, the fixed wing drone has different properties than a multi-rotor drone and therefore different strengths and weaknesses.
When it comes to drone technology, quadcopters offer several, relevant advantages over other multi-rotor drones. Take a look at what makes them the most popular amongst drones.
Quadcopters are generally easy to control and are more budget-friendly than other multi-rotor drones, which appeals to a large section of customers. Additionally, their easy maneuverability allows the drone to fly close to structures, record temperatures, carry out closer inspections, and more.
The square configuration of the drone makes for an adequately steady flight, making it suitable for beginners.
The fact that it is more easily available in the market than other drones also makes it relatively cheaper and adds to the value and popularity of the quadcopter amongst its users.
You might observe that quadcopters, as the most common type of drone, are used in a variety of ways.
These include recreational purposes such as flying for fun, photography, and drone racing, and commercial purposes like filmmaking. So, quadcopters manage to meet the needs of different audiences simultaneously.
Credit may go to its sturdy design, stable flight and control that allows the remote pilot to adapt it to their need, making quadcopters one of the most versatile drones in usage. One might even say the advantages of a quadcopter exceeds its disadvantages, making it one of the best types of drone in the market.
Of course, whether or not a quadcopter is the “best” drone for you depends on what you intend to use the drone for, as well as if you actually have flying experience.
Although quadcopters are preferred amongst a majority of remote pilots (especially beginners), this shouldn’t stop you from doing your own (more targeted) research on the drone.
While there may not be much difference between a FPV and normal drone in terms of what they’re often used for, it’s still worth considering the two separately.
The main difference between an FPV drone and a normal drone is that an FPV drone provides the remote pilot with the same perspective as the drone. It allows pilots more freedom of control with movements, which also brings with it a greater risk factor.
Normal drones are controlled by a handheld device but do not give the remote pilot a "first person view". They may lack the elated experience that comes with a FPV drone but they're also safer to use, making them perfect for beginners.
You can check out this video for more visual information on the differences between a normal drone and an FPV drone:
If you're interested in experiencing the thrill of First Person View (FPV) drone flying, you may be wondering if any drone can be used for this purpose.
In theory, any drone with a camera can be a FPV drone. However, you need to make sure it has a compatible video transmission system in order for the goggles to work.
The model of the drone and goggles must sync well together in order for the FPV technology to work.
It’s not surprising that the differences between a quadcopter and a drone are more linguistic than technical, considering that a quadcopter is simply a type of drone.
Here’s an answer to the question that wraps up this post well.
The main difference between a drone and a quadcopter arises from the use of the words in our discourse. Over the years, drones have developed quite a general meaning, due to which quadcopters could be termed as their prototypes.
For many casual drone flyers, the only drone type that exists is, in fact, a quadcopter.
And I don’t blame them! The recreational drone market is flooded with quadcopters.
So, you will inevitably find the two terms being used interchangeably. However, now that you are aware of their true meanings, you might want to give it more thought so you can nail the usage of your words.