By Mark LaFay

The world is seeing a significant growth in consumer drones. While the majority of the world’s media pines over the plight of modern warfare with unmanned aerial war machines, a bigger story is brewing elsewhere in the world. The booming consumer drone industry is doing just that, booming! The consumer drone industry is a relatively new industry and growing at an estimated rate of 15-20% annually.

Ironically enough, in the United States, arguably the largest consumer market in the world, the FAA has yet to release an updated set of laws to make commercial use of drones legal. They’ve also not outlined any sort of legislation necessarily making it illegal. When a clear set of legal operating guidelines are released, there is no telling where the drone market might go.

Part of the reason for the boom is that advances in technology have made it easier for high-end hardware and software to be developed and prototyped at a lower cost. These lower prices make it easier for a large amount of people to gain access to a product, but the real driver behind the surge in drone popularity is in the uses for drones.

Drones have attracted more than just model airplane hobbyists and flight hobbyists. The technology advances in flight technology, flight modes, and controls along with the advancements in portable photography and video technology has caused an explosion with amateur and professional photographers and videographers. Who needs high-end video cranes when you can couple a small action camera, like a GoPro, with a drone.

Drone with a GoPro action camera. [Credit: Source: bjoern.gramm/Creative Commons]
Credit: Source: bjoern.gramm/Creative Commons
Drone with a GoPro action camera.

The growth in drone popularity can also be seen in the number of drone companies that launched in 2014 and secured funding by launching crowdfunding campaigns that spread virally across the internet. (Crowdfunding is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising many small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet.)

Hexo+ raised $1.3 million, Airdroids raised $1.36 million, Robot Dragonfly raised $1.14 million, and Indianapolis-based Airdroids raised nearly $1 million for their compact Pocket Drone.

There are several types of drones currently available for purchase by consumers. These types include planes or gliders, helicopters, multi-copters or multi-rotors, and tiltrotors.

Planes

Remote controlled airplanes have been around for quite some time in the model aircraft world. These devices achieve flight through horizontal takeoff, meaning they gain speed across the ground until enough air moves across the wings to force the plane off the ground and into the air.

Planes also land horizontally, and since their ability to remain airborne requires forward momentum, they do not have the capability to hover in place or move vertically. Planes and gliders can only, and always must, move forward.

Airplane drone. [Credit: Source: wikipedia.org/New_Bethesda]
Credit: Source: wikipedia.org/New_Bethesda
Airplane drone.

Helicopters

These aircraft have two sets of propellers, often referred to as rotors. The main rotor is used to create lift to get the aircraft airborne and thrust to move the aircraft forward. The second rotor is used for directional control and stability of the helicopter. Because helicopters do not require thrust to become and remain airborne, they can move forward, backward, and strafe.

Strafing means moving side to side without changing your directional orientation. For example, you facing forward sidestep to the right or left. This movement is called strafing.

Helicopter drone. [Credit: Source: Paul Chapman/Creative Commons]
Credit: Source: Paul Chapman/Creative Commons
Helicopter drone.

Multi-copters

If helicopters have two rotors then a multi-copter has more than two. One of the benefits to having a multi-copter, also referred to as a multi-rotor, is that the mechanics involved with flight controls are much simpler. The directional control of a multi-copter is handled by adjusting the speed of each rotor. Multi-copters are the most common commercial drones because of their ease of construction and control.

Multi-copter drone. [Credit: Source: Nicolas Halftemeyer/Creative Commons]
Credit: Source: Nicolas Halftemeyer/Creative Commons
Multi-copter drone.

Tiltrotors

Tiltrotors function in a manner that appears to be a cross between planes and helicopters. On these aircraft, the rotors are positioned above the aircraft to allow for vertical takeoff. The rotors slowly shift forward (toward the nose of the aircraft) as the aircraft gains momentum. This changes the roll of the rotors from creating the lift for vertical takeoff, to creating the thrust thus making the wings responsible for creating the lift. Currently, there are no commercially available tiltrotor drones.

Tiltrotor aircraft. [Credit: Source:United States Coast Guard, PA3 Bridget Hieronymu]
Credit: Source:United States Coast Guard, PA3 Bridget Hieronymu
Tiltrotor aircraft.