The last couple of years have brought an explosion in news reports regarding drones and other unmanned aerial vehicles. Although some of these reports focus on the military models (Predator, Skyhawk, etc.), the bigger news is the progress in smaller drones which can do a number of tasks – from photography and video to crop inspection to search and rescue. This Beginners’ Guide focuses on consumer and hobby drones – those which you and I can buy and fly on a budget. Even those with higher aspirations need to start with the basics. This book provides a foundation for your drone education and much more.
What’s it all about?
They go by many names – Quadcopters, Quadrotors, Personal Drones, Multirotors, UAV’s and even “toys”, but these amazing flying machines contain advanced technology and are about to transform our world and our lives in many ways. What’s more, you and I and others who are hobbyists, photographers, pilots or just have interest in technology can participate in this revolution at a very reasonable cost.
Where are we now and where are we headed?
2013-2016 were years of explosive growth in the drone market and related technology, as costs have gone down and capabilities have gone up. In 2017 this is continuing with lower prices and more reliable flight systems. These advances were driven by lower prices for the important electronic components, which were in turn driven by the rise of hundreds of millions of smartphones and game machines. The same electronic components which power our phones and game consoles (accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS) help keep a drone flying. Cameras are also getting smaller and less costly, again driven by the market for millions of them inside smartphones, tablets and computers.
Why fly a Drone?
Drones may have advanced greatly over the last couple of years – but what’s in it for you? Here are just a few of the reasons you may want to take up this pursuit:
Aerial Photography and video
How would you like a picture of your house, the local valley and farms, the beach or your park from high above? Your drone allows you take pictures and videos as in the photograph below.
Another popular type of video is called FPV or First Person View. In this case, the drone has a camera which beams video back to a set of video goggles or a screen. This allow the operator to feel the sensation of flying and twisting through trees, down a path or over a stream.
Racing, Flips and Acrobatic Moves
Some pilots have the competitive spirit and like to push things to the limit. You can learn a number of fancy moves to impress yourself and your friends! Others enjoy the social aspect of hobbies. There are even events where you can fly your quadcopter in races, demonstrations or just for camaraderie.
Technical Aspects, Modification and Building
Do you enjoy technology, engineering, futuristic pursuits, inventing and expanding your general knowledge? This hobby will allow you to satisfy any level of these interests. Beginners might feel a sense of accomplishment by replacing a few small parts while others build their own quadcopters using custom parts – many of which they make or modify themselves. Others write and modify programs which improve the stability and other aspects of flight control. If you are part of the new “Maker” movement, you’ll find many ways to improve the basic drones which you purchase or build.
Fun and Stress Relief
You will often find yourself laughing out loud as well as forgetting about all the troubles of the world as you build, fly or fix your personal drone.
Future Commercial and Non-Profit Uses
There are numerous other applications for drone technology. Some examples:
Building and roof inspection
Search and rescue and Public Safety
Mapping and crop inspection and spraying
Other uses are only limited by your imagination and the continued evolution of drone hardware and software. As with any such venture you need to start with a basic foundation of knowledge.
Blade 350QX Quadcopter – note the 4 propellers
When you are finished reading it, you should know more about the subject of drones than most of your peers and therefore be able to help others. Putting that knowledge to work, you will be able to buy and fly hobby and consumer level drones successfully.
Use of Terms and Basic Definitions
Throughout this book, we will use the term drone, quad and quadcopter interchangeably, drone being the common use of the news media while quadcopter is more descriptive of the current crop of consumer models. Not all drones are quadcopters (4 propeller) Some have 6 or 8 props or are winged. A more accurate name might be UAVs, which stands for “unmanned aerial vehicles”. Some use the term robotic or autonomous in their descriptions, indicating the drone may have more advanced capabilities, such as flying a pre-programmed flight path without operator input or control.
Since this is a Newbies Guide, we will start with only a few definitions – a more complete glossary is at the end of the book.
Drone – a catch-all term used to describe any or all unmanned aerial vehicles.
Quadcopter (quad)– an aerial vehicle which uses four (4) propellers that provide all the lift and steering functions. Similar names are assigned to designs with 3-10 arms and propellers (tricopter, hexacopter, octocopter, multirotor, etc.)
Autonomous – not subject to control from outside, often used to describe a drone which follows a preset path using GPS or other means, as opposed to being actively steered by radio control.
For ease of description, most of our pictures and examples will use quadcopter or quad as the subject.