There are several types of drones which are used in various situations and requirements of the users. In a broad view of the matter, drone classification can be done on the basis of its usage, design, size, range, equipment, assembly, and energy source. Each drone classification has several types of drones.
Drone Classification by Usage
The drones used for recreational purposes, for fun and sports, are categorized here. Such as drone racing, taking selfies from drone etc.
Drones that are meant for business use, such as aerial photography and video recording, terrain inspection, real estate usage, package or pizza delivery etc.
Military drones are manufactured for specific purposes by specific companies, for example, spy drones, attack drones, riot control drones etc.
Drone Classification by Design
There are six types of drones with respect to the frame design:
Fixed wing drones are just like airplanes in design and can glide through a set path for the duration of the energy source they carry. These drones can’t stay in a single spot.
Single rotor drones are designed just like helicopters, having one single rotor to fly the drone. There is a small rotor on the tail of this drone to give it aerial directions. These drones can fly higher than the multi-rotor drones, stay in the same position without spinning, and are usually powered by gas instead of electricity. These are also known as Helirotor drones.
The type of drone which has multiple rotors on its body, which enables it to hover in a single position for a long period of time. These drones are very popular for various uses, such as photography, videography, recreation etc. There are several sub-categories of multi-rotor drones:
These have two sets of rotors blades mounted on the body of the drone.
Drones with three sets of rotors fixed in their body. The three rotors are designed in a shape of a triangle. These are energy efficient than the commercially popular quad-copters as these consume less battery life and are cheaper as well.
Also known as the Quad-copters. The drones have four rotors to fly with and do aerial maneuvers. These are the most commercially sought after drones that are safe and stable and still have a relatively inexpensive price tag. In situations where one of the rotors malfunction, the drone can still land safely. These are commonly used for photography and video capturing purposes.
These have five sets of rotors blades mounted on the body of the drone.
These drones comprise of six rotors which give them a more stable aerial maneuverability than the quad-copters. In comparison to the popular quad-rotors based drones, these can go up high, travel far, and have a precise steering system. These drones can safely land even if three of the rotors malfunction while airborne. The most popular hexacopter in the market is the Y6, which have 3 rotors on top of the drone’s frame and 3 below.
Consisting of eight rotors, these drones are the most resilient type with much greater power and speed. These can lift heavy objects and are usually used for delivering packages. The only con for this type is that due to a large number of rotors, the battery life is much less in comparison to other types of drones. Most popular drone as a quad-copter is the X8, which consists of 4 rotors in its upper frame, and 4 below. These are the most resilient drones for windy weathers due to their compact body structure and higher mobility in the air.
The ornithopter drones have non-conventional body frames than the other drones that are available in the market. These drones are designed in a way which is quite similar to birds, bugs, and even bats. Their flight patterns also mimic that of the natural birds and bugs and use multiple wings to flap through the air. These wings are powered by an electric motor, and the drone itself uses complex calculations to maneuver in the air.
Ornithopter bird drones are being used in the vicinity of airports to scare away other birds which had been one of the major causes of airplane collisions and damages. Hobbyist usually uses such type of drones for fun and custom models with different paints to enjoy playing with these devices.
The most recent invention of the drone technology is the omnicopter drones. The drones are a special type of multirotor drones which uses 3-dimensional thrust to move around in a space. This gives the drone an unprecedented maneuverability which is gained by the drones’ ability to compute several thousands of trajectories and does instantaneous 3D movements in any direction.
There are a few limitations with these types of drones. At any given time the omnicopter drone can only move in one direction in one plane due to the standard multirotor thrusts. These devices have extra components to support their 3D movements, which leads to extra operational costs as well as a decreased flight time for the drone. Check out this YouTube video about one of omnicopter drone.
Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) Hybrid Drones
These types of drones are a hybrid having fixed wings with propellers for flight. These drones can take off vertically and hover in a single spot just like helicopters. The wings let them cover long distance without utilizing the drone’s energy.
Drone Classification by Size
There are four basic sizes that the drones are available in:
The smallest drones which may measure up to 50 cm in length. Also known as micro drones, these are most commonly used for spying purposes and due to this specific reason, their wings and rotors are designed in a way to make them maneuver easily in small and compact spaces.
These are larger than the nano-drones and may go up 2 meters in dimension. Small in size, these units may come with fixed wings and have rotors for flight. Most common drones of this type are toys which can easily be thrown into the air with hands, or drones equipped cameras etc.
These drones are larger in size than the previously discussed drones and may weigh up to 200 kilograms, which may require multiple people to carry them.
Commonly used for military covert operations such as spying, surveillance, and attack, these drones are as large as small aircrafts. Such units carry lethal payloads and are only available to specific types of consumers, which can either be government, armies, mercenaries and in special cases (non-lethal versions) large corporations.
Drones Classification by Range
There are five types that drones can be classified in with regards to the range they can fly away from their user or center of control:
Very Close Range Drones
These drones have a controllable radius of 5 kilometers with battery lifetime between 20 minutes to one hour. These drones are the most commercially used type with the main focus being kids and adult toys.
Close Range Drones
These drones can fly up to 50 kilometers in radius to the controlling user. Their batteries can last from 1 hour to 6 hours. These are also commercially available drones.
Short Range Drones
An extended range of 150 kilometers in comparison to close range drones, these are mainly used by military organizations for spying and surveillance.
There are high-speed drones and have control range which is five times greater than those drones categorized as short range. These can cover a mind-boggling range of 650 kilometers. Main uses for these type of drone is spying and surveillance but are also applicable in scientific research and analysis, for example, collecting meteorological data.
The best drones available come in the endurance classification, why, because these can have a maximum flight time of 36 hours continuously, and are so much durable in frame and design that these can go up to a height of around 30,000 feet above sea level. Best use of such drones is for high-end spying and surveillance by military organizations and spying agencies.
Drone Classification by Commercial Assembly
There are three basic packaging that the commercially available drones come in whenever you buy them in online or local stores:
Also known by its acronym, RTF, these drones do not need pre-assembly before flying. They are ready to fly by their users as soon as these are unpacked. You may need to insert batteries in the drone or charge its battery, but aside from that, there is no need to do any extra work. It is often easier to learn how to fly one of these drones than anything else, thus making them ideal for beginners. These drones may or may not come with an integrated camera. in case if the drone comes with a built-in camera, the camera lens will not be able to capture high-resolution images.
Also known by its acronym, BNF, Bind-and-fly drones do not come with a transmitter in their assembly packing. These drones are more suited for experienced flyers who already have a quality transmitter with them or plans to buy the transmitter separately as they desire. The transmitter from one quad-copter may be used with another newer model but this is not guaranteed to be successful.
Also known by its acronym, ARF, almost ready to fly drones are the best type of drones for the people who want to have customized drones for themselves as they require. These drones are not suitable for beginners, you will need to have the knowledge of how quad-copters work, how to build them and also to have the various missing parts of the drone itself. Considering the high-end freedom for customization these drones are cheaper than their counterparts and are perfect for people to experiment on them with different combinations of motors, transmitter, controllers etc.
Drone Classification by Equipment
There are four basic types of drones that are categorized in on the basis of equipment:
Drones equipped with a camera are in high demand by the enthusiast who loves to capture video footage or take photos with their drones. The filmmaking industry is taking advantage of these type of drones to record the action that was much costly before the introduction of drones for a commercial market.
The price tag for these types of drones is usually high due to the higher quality of the camera integrated into its frame. In recent times their prices have experienced a dip which has enabled a wide range of users with varying budgets to buy and fly these drones.
FPV stands for First Person Viewing – which is derived from a very common application of the drones, that is, the capability of a drone to capture and relay the images to the controller on a real-time basis through the mounted camera.
These drones come with an accompanying controller which may have an embedded screen for visual display of the view that the camera is seeing. The control may have connected portable goggles that the user can wear over his eyes and enjoy the real-time coverage which the camera on the drone is displaying.
In recent time, the FPV drones have gained much popularity among young and adults alike to use these units for sports and drone racing while wearing 3D supporting goggles. This enables the user of the drone to race other people just like in a 3D video game.
GPS Equipped Drones
One of the most popular features of recent drones is having the GPS tracking integrated with them. The drones having GPS tracking system can be programmed to behave automatically to a set rules by its users. This ability of drones makes it usable for various special tasks, for example, to maneuver through a set navigation points in a specific area for a set amount of time which maintaining a predefined height to record data or capture images.
Besides this highly useful application, these units can also hold an aerial position for a specified time as desired by its user. Which is very useful for taking high-quality photos or selfies. Other advantages are the ability to return to the coordinates of its take off automatically and to avoid specific areas and assigned in the drone application by the user.
These drones are designed to be used for outdoor activities in open spaces. People have started using these devices to record their unforgettable moments on vocational trips.
Stabilizers Equipped Drones
Every drone is constantly subjected to a number of forces coming at the device from different directions. The most common example is the wind, which will affect the drone’s yaw, pitch, and roll which results in making that device very hard to control.
Gyro stabilizers integrated into various parts of the drone can quickly detect the changes in the drone’s position and immediately compensates for it in a way which may go unnoticed by the drone’s user. Using these stabilizers the drone readjusts hundreds of times in the span of a few seconds to remain smooth in its flight trajectory or stay calm while hovering.
Gyro stabilizers technology has greatly improved the flight capabilities of drones. The modern drones may have several stabilizers on it is 3 or 6 axis which helps in drone stability or swift maneuverability even with steep turns. These gyroscopes are very small in sizes which may vary from 1 micrometer or 100 micrometers but with their multiple axis sensors, they greatly assist the controller in flying the drone easily and safely.
Drone Classified by Energy Source
There are four basic types of drones that are categorized in on the basis of energy sources these use:
Battery Powered Drones
The most common and commercially available drones run on batteries which can be recharged. These drones are much lighter, more responsive, require less maintenance and are a lot cheaper than other types of drones.
Gas Powered Drones
As the name suggests, drones which are powered by gases compared to the electric batteries are classified in this category. These drones usually come with a small engine and can run off of traditional gasoline (such as hydrogen), even with two-cycle engine oil which is commonly available in auto shops.
A typical gas-powered drone will weigh more on average than a commercially available remotely controlled drone model. This helps the drone with the stability of its flight even in harsh conditions like windy weather and rain. These units can stay in flight for about 30 minutes to 2 hours depending on the drone design and the amount of gas it can carry.
These drones are not for the novice or beginner drone flyers because the engine and frame assembly of these units are a bit more complex and due to a stronger engine and heavier body, some people may find it tougher to work with.
Nitro Powered Drones
The nitro-powered drones are similar to the gas-powered drone models but the only fuel these use is the nitro which is a combination of nitro-methane with methanol resulting in a powerful drive within the drone unit. This allows the drone to have a much better propulsion and a smoothly run engine.
These drones are a bit lighter than in comparison to other gas-powered drones and also have better agility in its aerial movements. The only difficulty these types of drones poses to their users is the availability of nitro-fuel, which can be overcome with integrating a gas conversion kit in the drone’s frame, which is a bit of a tedious task.
Solar Powered Drones
The solar-powered drones are a special kind of drones which have batteries embedded in their frames and charged with solar power. These batteries have a significantly extended life which makes these drones ideal for long flight duration tasks especially aerial mission without the need to return to the ground. These may comprise of several days, months or even years.
The solar cells on these drones are very flexible which can easily be integrated into curved areas, and when in tandem of having lightweight, these cells significantly increase the aerial maneuverability of the drones with aerodynamic structures.
As of now, the latest information about the height such drones can fly up to is around 65000 feet by the Chinese CH-T4 drone. With such complex structure to reach so much height, right now these drones are expensive in the market and not commercially available.