The Ultimate Guide to Quadcopters

What is a Quadcopter? Quadcopter vs. Drone

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A quadcopter is a specific term used to describe a drone that’s controlled by four rotors. It goes by many names like a quadrotor or a quadrotor helicopter or a quadcopter. The rotors on a quadcopter consist of a motor and a propeller. Additionally, these unmanned quadcopters are controlled remotely instead of a pre-programmed, onboard computer system. The four rotors are mounted on four arms of a frame that’s symmetric, with each arm 90-degrees apart. Usually, two sets of propellers are mounted on the motors to create opposite force to balance the quadcopter.

Drone is a broad term used to describe any kind of unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). It can be used to describe both remotely controlled UAVs and computer controlled UAVs. You might have heard the terms “drone” and “quadcopter” being used frequently. Sometimes it seems as if they both are interchangeable. While “drone” and “quadcopter” are both accurate terms used to describe recreational unmanned aerial vehicles, their definitions vary slightly. They both look either like a small aircraft or a helicopter.

Multicopters, drones, quadcopters – call them whatever you want! These little aircraft are a new fleet of radio control (RC) fun that is gaining in popularity. Personal drones or quadcopters have been all the rage for the last couple of years as personal new devices to capture the outside world. As technology has evolved and become more mainstream, an insane number of interesting drone technology has surfaced. Radio controlled quadcopters and drones are all the rage at the moment and all the recent developments in the field of small autonomous drones seem to use quadcopters. Ever wonder why is that?

Unlike helicopters, they are much stable and are capable of lifting bigger loads. The main reason they are so popular these days is mechanical simplicity. For some, it’s simply for the pleasure of flying a radio controlled drone while others are inspired the endless possibilities of aerial photography. Flying a quadcopter is fun and it’s relatively an emerging hobby. They are also used in universities for research purposes to test and evaluate new ideas in different fields, such as flight control, navigation, real-time systems and robotics. In the past few decades, small-scale unmanned aerial drones have been used for many applications, which eventually has led to a rise in quadcopter research.

As with most modern technologies, the quadcopter industry is advancing exponentially. There are all kinds of reason why quadcopters are used commercially and why people want to learn to fly one. For some, it’s just fun, while others take pleasure in capturing amazing aerial photography. No wonder people are beginning to integrate drone technology more and more into their daily activities. The civilian drone market is growing rapidly and the ones who are part of it think of it as the next big change after the mobile phone technology.

Aerial Photography

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Aerial photography has been the foremost reason of flying quadcopters and the industry is growing at a much faster pace for the last couple of years. What started out as a mere hobby has opened up a new window of opportunities for commercial applications, which points to a huge growth in the coming years. Large sized kites were used for aerial photography before drones or quadcopters came to the picture. Though they weren’t stable enough, they had been the primary choice for those interested in aerial photography.

This has changed with the introduction of commercially available drones or quadcopters. They are now easily available to everybody at affordable prices and in all sizes – small quadcopter, large quadcopter, a quadcopter with camera, etc. They can easily reach a high altitude and provide a bird’s eye view of the landscape beneath while maintaining a stable position in the air. The four-rotor design allows drones or quadcopters to be relatively simple in design yet relatively reliable, efficient, and maneuverable.

Personal drones equipped with high-definition cameras are already changing the rules of standard photography. Now you can take incredible photos that you simply couldn’t take before. And you know the best part? They are wallet-friendly, costing about the same as the high-end DSLRs. For some, it’s the fresh air that draws them away from their desk, while many wish to explore new possibilities and invent new ways of photography. While many want to turn recreational flying into a career.

Real Estate Photography

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One of the best uses of quadcopters in aerial photography is leveraged by the real estate industry. The quadcopter has turned out to be a marketing tool for realtors. Realtors love to have an aerial view of the property they like to sell. Realtors relied on photos to show alongside home listings for a very long time, but those pictures alone were never enough because they used to be very one dimensional. But thanks to the modern day drone technology, real estate agents can now provide “virtual walkthroughs” of the home, demonstrating the scenic view of the property more vividly, along with the surrounding areas. If a picture speaks a thousand words, then a video is definitely worth a million words. As a result, home listings with video tend to receive more activity than non-video listings.

Aerial Cinematography

Drones or quadcopters are largely becoming a significant part of movie making and cinematography. In fact, one of the most exciting used of digital cinematography is aerial drone cinematography. One of the most revolutionary changes in the history of movie making is the shift from analog and digital. Although, aerial photography while filming is not revolutionary – early filmmakers simply attached cameras to the kites – digital cameras have created new and innovative filming options while making aerial cinematography more accessible to cinematographers. Now with the current rise in inexpensive radio controlled quadcopters, digital cameras have found their quick entry point into aerial cinematography.

Search & Rescue Missions

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Despite the mixed reactions regarding personal quadcopters being regularly used for spying on people, invading their privacy, or injuring people; they are put to good use in many search and rescue missions too. Like a full-sized aircraft, quadcopters are fully capable of carrying high-definition cameras and even thermal imaging equipment to help find people. They can fly low to the ground and maneuver efficiently to access difficult areas. As a result, quadcopters are being used more and more frequently as part of search and rescue missions in urban environments.

Aircraft Inspections

Unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) are also used to inspect aircraft and passenger airliners to make inspections between flights faster and more efficient. Inspecting takes more than just tapping into the gauges; in fact, it requires highly involved checklists that view any automated system thoroughly. The quadcopters can move around the aircraft easily without the need for ladders or cranes, and the inspection flight path can stay autonomous. The main objective is to carry out routine inspections and report potential damages that require advance inspection. In the meantime, engineers can sit in centralized remote areas and monitor the process up close.

Research

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In the recent years, many universities have leveraged drone technology in performing increasingly complex aerial maneuvers. There are several advantages to using unmanned quadcopters as versatile test platforms. They are available in a variety of shapes and designs and are relatively cheap. Their mechanical simplicity makes them efficient and easily maneuverable, even by the amateurs. Drones make a useful platform for robotics research, thanks to the open API which allows researchers to read sensory data and obtain images from its cameras. Drones of all types have already been used in a wide range of practical ways such as climate study, crop and livestock monitoring, glaciers mapping, storm monitoring, and much more.

Surveillance

Unmanned quadcopters or drones have been frequently used by military and law enforcement agencies for high-profile surveillance operations and reconnaissance. It allows them to monitor inaccessible areas without being physically present there. Drones are widely used for anti-poaching efforts, border patrol, building security, prison surveillance and monitoring, road traffic control, and police investigations. The best thing is they are quiet – the small electric motors and blades are much quieter than traditional helicopters. They are small and less distracting, so can be deployed easily without risking human lives in critical situations. There are also strict regulations and protocols in place for illegal surveillance and spying.

Product Delivery

One of the most innovative uses of drones that caught the media attention lately was product and food delivery. Major companies like Amazon, FedEx and DHL are leveraging the drone technology for local delivery of their products. Amazon has gone so far as to patent the technology. Think about this for a second. Not only you could have the product delivered at your doorstep in no time, but you could get it anywhere you want. But the biggest challenge for companies right now is FAA restrictions on the commercial use of drones. Deliveries by drones definitely look like the future.

How to Choose the Right Quadcopter?

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With so many designs and models to choose from, choosing the right drone or quadcopter can be confusing at times. While all the drones share the same frameworks and layout, they may vary in other areas. Of course, they come in almost every size and design, and in almost every price range you can possibly imagine. So while choosing the right aerial vehicle, it’s important to consider your own needs and abilities first, before proceeding. In general, there are five basic factors to consider before purchasing your first quadcopter.

Flight Time

This refers to the amount of time a quadcopter will be in the air on a single charge. There are several factors that affect a drone’s flight time such as battery size, the weight of the drone, flight maneuvers, etc. For the most part, all quadcopters employ a relatively short flight time (less than 30 minutes). Some cheaper models have flight times less than 10 minutes on an average, while the expensive ones have flight times somewhere between 15 to 20 minutes. We recommend you go for an inexpensive drone first, and then consider purchasing a better one with better features.

Skill Level

It’s important to assess your needs and skill level before making the purchase. Go for a model that’s beyond your skill level, you’d probably end up crashing the drone and eventually wasting the money you spent on your first drone. They are both easy and hard to fly, depending on the features and the way they are designed. You can find droned for children to fly, for that matter. The type of drone you choose depends on how well you can control it, no matter if it’s a mini quadcopter or a large quadcopter or a kid’s copter. For instance, if you’re going to purchase a kid’s copter, you might want to consider something that’s sturdy and inexpensive, and the one that’s equipped with all the safety features.

GPS Sensors

GPS Sensors usually come in high-end models and are really useful. They come in handy while doing aerial photography – it allows you to set coordinates for your drone. Once programmed, the drone will automatically fly to those coordinates. GPS Sensors have a specific “Return Home” feature which allows the drone to return safely to the base to its original location without having to manually maneuver it. This feature comes in handy when you lose sight of your drone.

Camera

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What’s the point in having an unmanned drone at your disposal if it doesn’t have all the features you need for your little aerial trip? Many drones come with cameras; however, the exact specs of these cameras vary differently, such as the type of controller, whether or not they come with GPS Sensors, and what kind of assembly they require. The cheaper models also come with cameras but with low-resolution specs. But if you’re too much into aerial photography, it would be wise to go for an expensive model with a high-definition camera. After all, a low-quality bird’s eye view of the landscape is no better than having no view at all.

Controllers

If durability is your concern, you may want to go for the one that’s equipped with features such as propeller guards, its ability to withstand accidental crashes, and above all the controller. A controller (or transmitter) allows you to control and maneuver your drone. A transmitter usually comes with two analog sticks and operates at a frequency of 2.4GHz. We recommend transmitters that show real-time diagnostics of the drone, which eventually make for a better and enjoyable flying experience.

It doesn’t take rocket science to understand what you need in your drone. Depending on the usage of the quadcopter coupled with your skill level, it gets easier to choose the right one for you. Just for fun, any quadcopter would be great. But for more stable and professional aerial photography, you might want to consider a quadcopter with a high-definition camera along with all the necessary features you want in your drone. It’s really fun and pleasure to see them flying, however choosing the right drone is a tough job, but not impossible.

It’s true that unmanned quadcopters and aerial vehicles have opened up new horizons in aerial photography, and new applications are being witnessed on a daily basis. From an economic perspective, it’s easy to see how drone technology could be an elegant technological solution to a problem. Earlier this year, GoPro announced plans to release a quadcopter GoPro in the first half of 2016. It’s almost difficult to predict what comes next. But one thing for sure; they’ve already changed some paradigms in our daily lives.