What are drones and how do they work?

A drone is officially known as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). It is an aircraft that does not require a human pilot on board in order to fly. These types of aircraft are typically controlled by remote control. Some advanced types of drones can fly autonomously. The United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) defines UAV as any uncrewed aircraft regardless of its size. 

UAVs are part of an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) which may also include the control station, the software, the communication system, any payloads, launch equipment, and recovery mechanisms.

While it does not carry a pilot, drones can carry various payloads. Most drones used for recreational purposes carry miniature cameras typically used for capturing first-person perspective images or video footage. Some cameras are capable of providing live video feeds as well.

The original versions of drones were used for missions that are unsuitable or too dangerous for humans to carry out. However, modern-day types are becoming more popular outside military uses. Aside from its recreational appeal, drones are expanding to commercial, agricultural, and scientific uses. They are used in surveillance, policing, photography, videography, and even product deliveries. 

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What are Other Names for Drones?

“Drone’ is the most common term for any unmanned flying craft. However, various terms are recognized by various aviation organizations in the world. Here are a few:

Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) – adopted and recognized by the United States Department of Defense (DoD), the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the British Civil Aviation Authority, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Systems Association (UAVSA), and the European Union.

    1. Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle System (UAVS)
    2. Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle (RPAV)
    3. Remotely Piloted Aircraft System (RPAS) – adopted and recognized by International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA), Eurocontrol, the BeUAS, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA – Australia), and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA – New Zealand)
    4. Small Unmanned Aircraft System (SUAS)

What Are Common Names for Drones Among Hobbyists?

Due to its popularity among hobbyists and enthusiasts, other terms have been adopted to describe various forms and sizes of the flying craft. Some are as follows: 


  • Multicopter – A generic name that refers to a drone with multiple propellers. An umbrella term for the more specific names of drones.
  • Multirotor – A term synonymous with multicopter. It also refers to drones with multiple propellers. 
  • Quadcopter – A well-known term for UAVs with four rotors. These propellers are usually positioned in a horizontal plane which is much similar to a helicopter. Other related terms are quadrocopter and quadricopter.
  • Hexacopter – A type of multicopter with six propellers set in a horizontal plane. A hexacopter can lose a propeller or an engine and it will still have the ability to maintain control for landing. Another related term is hexicopter.
  • Octocopter – A type of multicopter with eight blades that allows the aircraft to carry small to medium-sized payloads. These drones have a better range and improved stability. 

What is the Difference Between a Drone and a UAV?

The terms “drone” and “UAV” are used interchangeably these days. The former is more popular due to its use in the market, media, and hobbyists. However, it should be noted that drones can refer to any unmanned craft or vehicle such remotely controlled submarines or autonomous land vehicles. Many experts and professionals seem to agree that UAVs need to have autonomous capabilities. On the other hand, drones need not have any such functionalities. Simply, all drones are UAVs, but not all UAVs are drones.

Different Types of Drones

There are various types of drones according to sizes, complexities, purposes, and prices.

Mini Drones

Mini drones, also known as toy drones or nano drones, are quadcopters that are inexpensive. These are mostly meant for kids or those who want to try flying drones for fun. Most mini drones have basic flying functions and cannot carry payloads.

Other required features are:

  • Manual camera settings
  • Brushless motors
  • Well stabilized Gimbal
  • Automatic flight modes

Hobby Drone

Hobby drones are mid-sized drones that are popular among beginner hobbyists who want to take flying a drone more seriously. These types of multicopters are ideal for those with some experience in handling drones. Many hobby drones come with cameras or have mechanisms for camera attachments

Other required features are:

  • GPS and returrn to home
  • Flight modes
  • 4k cameras
  • Usually under $200

Professional Drone

Professional drones are high-end aircraft with four or more propellers or rotors. Many of these types of drones are used for professional aerial photography and videography. As such, they already have built-in high-definition cameras. They often have a better range and longer flight times.

Looking for long range drones? I included my top long distance drones in an article that you need to check out.

Other required features are:

  • Manual camera settings
  • Brushless motors
  • Well stabilized Gimbal
  • Automatic flight modes

Racing Drones (FPV)

Racing drones are relatively smaller types of quadcopters. These are built to be faster and more agile than the typical hobby or professional drone. They also include a built-in camera that provides first-person view video feeds that provide a cockpit view as the craft flies through courses and obstacles.

Other required features are:

  • Speeds of up to 170km/h
  • Poweful Lipo Batteries
  • Low Latency FPV Cameras
  • First Person View Goggles

Camera Drone

Camera drones, or selfie drones, are compact quadcopters that are easy to carry and pack wherever you go. They often have built-in cameras that can take photos and videos with unique perspectives.

What are Drones Used For?

Drones have long been researched and tested before they became popular in the market. These days, drones have taken many forms, sizes, and designs. Here are the most common uses of drones.

More and more public and private organizations are taking advantage of UAVs to conduct research, collect data, reach dangerous locations, and more. We are expected to see more drone technology combined with artificial intelligence and other IT infrastructures in a few years


  • Military Drones – One of the first applications of drones is for military purposes. These drones are equipped with weapons that are used for airstrikes, especially in inaccessible areas.
  • Monitoring Drones – Speaking of drones used in observations, monitoring drones is equipped with different devices such as various types of cameras including infrared. These drones are used to collect information such as weather and terrain. For instance, some types of drones are used to observe on-going or potential forest fires or even prevent street crimes.  In some situations, these drones are also used for reconnaissance and survey for military purposes.
  • Photography and Videography Drones – These drones are the most popular types which are used by artists, hobbyist, and content creators. These drones have replaced the typical combination of a cameraman and a helicopter as these are most cost-effective and efficient. 
  • Delivery Drones – These types of drones are the newest innovations in technology. Current studies and tests are being conducted to determine the viability of delivery drones in different areas. There are already programs that use drones to deliver relatively small payloads including DHL, Amazon, La Postale, and more. They are used to deliver packages, medicines, and other supplies to hard to reach areas like Vanuatu, Alpine villages, and other locations. 

What Are New Trends in Drones? FPV racing

A relatively new sport is beginning to emerge among drone hobbyists and enthusiasts. FPV (first-person video) drone racing, or simply drone racing, started in Australia. Now, many drone racing events across the United States, the United Kingdom, Asia, and some parts of the Middle East are attracting thousands of players and fans worldwide. Currently, MultiGP and The Drone Racing League (DRL) are two of the largest drone racing leagues in the world with hundreds of chapters on different countries and thousands of members.

Final Thoughts

Much like AI, drones are the future. And, they are set to be ubiquitous due to their efficiency and affordability. With the development of technology going at a rapid pace, we may even see drones that are fully independent of human control. Only the next few years which trends in drone innovations will last for a long time.