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Advanced technology for hovering drones explained

Updated in 2022 by Paul Posea
Can a drone remain stationary in one place?

The drone industry has grown immensely recently, gracing us with a range of high-end models to basic hobby drones. Instead of remotely controlled drones, autonomous ones are gaining popularity. Different features cater to specific goals; for instance, integrated GPS is vital for self-hovering drones. You can control your drone remotely to hover on site for at least 30 minutes and 2 hours for advanced UAVs.

Technology advance has generated drones with vision systems that can precisely latch onto a target regardless of their changes in direction or shape. These drones automatically change their tracking and positioning strategically based on the environment. Exciting, right? Here’s what you should consider before hopping on the bandwagon.

Can drones hover in one spot?

Yes, drones can hover in one spot. The rotors must produce a lift force equal to gravitational pull, thus, balancing at the same height. Most drones lack the automatic hover button; hence, you have to get your drone from the ground and gently throttle it to maintain a sturdy height. Luckily, advanced drones with GPS features will automatically hover with a press of a button.

Can drones remain stationary?

Yes. Some drones have functionalities that enable them to remain stationary for hours in the air. You can set the drone to fly in a specific route then lock onto a target for a specified period. The gyro stabilization technology, IMU, and rotors collaborate, enabling your drone to remain stationary. Regularly examine your drone’s hardware components to ensure they’re clean, straight, and functioning; otherwise, the drone might fly erratically even with these features.  

Three types of drones and their hovering capabilities

  • Fixed-wing - Although these drones take off, land, and fly like conventional UAVs, they cannot hover or make sharp angled turns. However, their endurance in the air is much higher than multi-rotor drones.
  • Single rotor– These drones have a large spinning wing and a small tail rotor for stability and direction. They can hover vertically for up to 30 minutes in the air.
  • Multi-rotor – These are the most popular drones due to their low production cost and manufacturing simplicity. They have several rotors, from 2 to 8 rotors. Quadcopters (4 rotors) are the most common in this category. These drones are easy to maneuver and hover.

The physic of flying “hovering” drones

Drones require three essential technologies to fly and hover; gyroscope stabilization, the Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), and a flight controller. Most drones have three and six-axis gyro stabilization machinery that sends navigational data to the flight controller for easier and safer flying. This technology stabilizes drones even during strong winds and gusts, making them easier to hover. So, here is the physics explained;

Gyroscope Stabilization – Self-balancing mechanism

Gyroscope's main function is to improve all aspects of drone flight, including hovering perfectly still or taking steep turns. A drone fitted with six-axis gyro tech transmits data from the IMU and flight controller to greatly improve flight capabilities.

The gyroscope has elements between 1 to 100 micrometers and is fitted with multiple axes. This feature re-adjusts a drone’s position several times per second in the air to enable still hovering in the same place. Therefore, the gyroscope instantly reacts to the forces moving against the drone to stabilize it. Gyroscope stabilization is integrated with the IMU.

Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) - Gyroscope within IMU

The IMU detects changes in the current acceleration rate using one or more accelerometers. Since it’s fitted with several gyroscopes, the IMU can detect slight rotational attributes like roll, yaw, and pitch changes. Advanced drones are installed with magnetometers in their IMU to calibrate against orientation shift.

Processors onboard the IMU constantly calculate the current drone position. The first action is to integrate the sensed acceleration then estimate the drone’s gravitational pull. This data helps calculate the drone’s velocity and finally computes its current position.

The flight controllers collect the IMU data on exact positioning and feed it to the electronic speed controllers (ESC), enabling the drone to drift in any direction.  This ESC signals the motors to adjust the thrust and speed needed for the drone to fly or hover in one spot. IMU is embedded in the flight controllers to allow the above impact.

Flight Controllers – IMU within flight controllers

Flight controllers house essential components that contribute to drones' functionality like giving directions, propelling flights, and sensing orientation. It contains hardware and high-level software programs which collaboratively enable the drone to fly with stability. Integration of IMU and gyroscope in the flight controllers allow the following functions:

  • Intelligent orientation controls
  • Auto Return home mode
  • Signals the ESC on speed and direction
  • Controlled landing gears
  • Sensitive built-in damper IMU module
  • Multi-rotor fail protection

Rotor and Motion

Drones use rotors for propulsion and control and thus are important parts during flight and hovering. For a drone to vertically lift, spinning rotors must push air downwards that exceeds the gravity forces. A faster spin means more air is pushed and, thus, greater lift force, and vice versa.

Drones can either ascend, descend or hover on a vertical motion depending on the lift force applied. During ascending, the rotors spin faster to produce more lift force that exceeds drag force and takes off. The rotors spin slower to produce less lift force than gravity to descend—the slower the rotors, the faster the descent. When hovering, the rotors spin to produce lift force equal to gravitational pull to maintain the same height.

Features to consider while looking for hovering drones

General factors that determine a good drone are the material used, camera quality, device range, flying time, batteries, and availability of spare parts. However, if your goal is to hover the drone for hours in the air, look for these specific high-tech features:

  • GPS navigation – The in-built GPS navigation in your drone helps it find its way around. With this technology, you can design paths, and your drone will navigate them effortlessly.
  • GPS home function – This feature allows drones to record their initial take-off position and return to that original start point in the case of an issue.
  • Headless mode – This feature ensures your drone is heading in the right direction—whether facing you or in the opposite direction. For instance, if you steer the drone left or right, it will follow the command regardless of the direction it’s facing. This feature is for hovering drones.

Frequently asked questions (FAQs)

What happens if you hover close to the ground?

The drone will produce airflow to lift, and if the force bounces off at an odd angle, it can either spin or flip upside down. Before flying to larger and harsh spaces, you should hover close to the ground (at least 8 feet in the air. This will give you ample time to navigate the surroundings like wind influence, and it’s easier to fly higher from there.

Can single rotor drones hover?

Yes. Single rotor drones can hover vertically in the air. These drones are rare in the market but have built-in features that enable hovering. For example, they have long-lasting flight time and heavy payload capabilities, making them strong and durable.

Why does my drone not hover?

While hovering, a drone may be erratic because the IMU or drone compass is not properly calibrated. If the IMU calibration is off, your drone will struggle to remain stationary. To fix this, calibrate your drone's IMU and compass. Additionally, misaligned propellers or faulty motors can cause tilting; check before a flight.

Can a drone hover around or inside a moving car?

No, it is illegal for a drone to hover around a moving car. The FAA prohibits this action, but there are exceptions. If the interior is completely sealed, you can hover a drone inside a vehicle with enough space.

Conclusion

Advanced drone technologies that enable autonomous flying are gaining popularity in the mainstream UAV industry. Most drones are embedded in features like GPS, onboard sensors, and software-control systems to either command them remotely or fly automatically. Each model specs caters to different flying goals. As a drone enthusiast, you should stay updated with the new trends and opt for better features to allow a smooth flight experience. For self-hovering drones, the components are specific and elaborated above.

author-paul-posea-picture
Hi, I'm Paul.
A big drone enthusiast, reviewing, comparing and writing about drones since 2015. I'm all about helping people enjoy and even monetize their hobby.
paul posea
Paul Posea
Hi, I'm a long-time drone reviewer and I hope my articles and comparisons on this site as well as Dronesgator's youtube channel are of as much help as possible.

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