Everybody can form a mental picture of a drone when we’re talking about drones in a conversation. We thought it would be interesting to explain to everyone what the word “drone” actually means.

For starters the word drone doesn’t always refers to an Unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). A “drone” can refer to:

  • A male bee
  • A fertile male ant
  • Drone metal (a style of heavy metal)
  • Drone music (a minimalist musical style)
  • A continuous note or chord in a piece of music
  • A professional Mexican wrestler
  • The place in Georgia (US)

But we could say that when we’re talking about drones 99.9% we mean a UAV. The term UAV is still a very general term that can mean a lot of different things like:

  • Agricultural drone
  • Delivery drone
  • Micro air vehicle
  • Miniature UAV
  • Multirotor
  • Passenger drone
  • Quadcopter
  • Unmanned combat aerial vehicle (will not be discussed)

The agricultural drone

According to Wikipedia:

“An agricultural drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle applied to farming in order to help increase crop production and monitor crop growth. Digital imaging can give farmers a better picture of their fields and crops. This information may prove useful in improving crop yields and farm efficiency.”

Farmers who use an agricultural drone have the opportunity to so see their complete fields from the sky. They have the advantage of spotting problems with their crops in a very effective manner. Farmers who do not use drones to manage their crops will miss out on spotting important problems like where they have irrigation problems, sick plants, destroyed crops,… It’s beneficial for almost every farmer to use drones for field analysis to increase profit and be more efficient.

When you spot a part of your crops that is sick you can solve this problem in a very efficient way using… you guessed it – drones. They can be equipped with sprinklers that spray the medicine for the crops. The advantage here is that the drone can be very specific and just spray the crops who need the treatment, saving you a ton money!

The delivery drone

This one is kind of obvious, it’s a drone that delivers packages, food or other goods!

Those are the 3 main areas where drone delivery is expected to be useful in the short future.

  1. Healthcare
  2. Food delivery
  3. Postal services

Healthcare:

UAV’s can transport medicines and vaccines, retrieve medical samples from otherwise inaccessible areas. The first startup for healthcare using UAV’s was started by a Dutch student in 2014. “The ambulance drone”, delivering defibrillators and live stream communication to people in remote areas who need it!

A lot of startups followed the example of using drones for healthcare and it’s now an important part of the drone landscape.

Food delivery:

One of the most famous prototypes of food delivery in the drone business was the Tacocopter by Star Simpson. This drone delivered taco’s to your home when ordering them via the mobile app.

The first commercial success in 2016 was a collaboration between 7-Eleven, Flirtey and later Domino’s. This was the first commercial application of drone food delivery that was approved by the FAA.

An honorable mention in this category would be for Marriott International who used drones to serve cocktails indoors.

Postal service:

A lot of different postal services in different countries are testing the feasibility and profitability of drones. Here the opportunity lays in deliveries in countries where the terrain isn’t always as accessible.

Micro air vehicle

The name kind of says it. It’s a micro aerial vehicle that is a miniature version of a UAV. They can be smaller than 5 centimeters. We can see the usefulness of this kind of UAV especially in toxic and dangerous landscapes where there is no room for big, heavy, loud and sometimes dangerous drones. These micro UAV’s are biological inspired, the try resemble the movement and energy efficiency of small insects like flies and mosquitos. They need to be very small and light weighted (+-4 grams, this is for energy efficiency). That makes it very hard to fit a camera and a transponder in the micro air vehicle, which is needed to control the drone beyond line of sight. This makes the autonomous micro air vehicles for most developers their favorite way to go.

Miniature UAV

A miniature UAV or Small UAV (SUAV) is a term used for all UAV’s that can be carried by an infantry man. This makes this a very broad term ranging from micro air vehicles to man portable air defense systems. This term is usually used for military purposes and not so much in civil drone world.

Multirotor

A synonym for multirotor is multicopter and this is a very simple term used for UAV’s with more than 2 rotors. These UAV’s are in general easier to control than single- and double-rotor helicopters. Because they are so easy to build and control they are frequently used in UAV’s projects where we use the names:

  • Tricopter (3 rotor rotorcraft)
  • Quadcopter (4 rotor rotorcraft)
  • Hexacopter (6 rotor rotorcraft)
  • Octocopter (8 rotor rotorcraft)

When you talk about drones and people form their mental picture about what a drone is. Most people picture a multirotor like the DJI phantom!

The passenger drone

Synonyms for the passenger drone are the drone taxi, flying taxi, pilotless helicopter,…. The first one of it’s kind was showed in 2016.

A lot of big companies are investing in the kind of technology like Uber which makes the future of this application of drones bright. But we can’t forget that this is a technology that falls under the same category of self-driving cars and that there always will be a lot of controversy.

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