Is a quadcopter a drone? Or a UAV?
Technically, yes – quadcopters are both drones and Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). But they differ significantly from what most people think of when they hear the word drone. A drone, or an unmanned aerial vehicle (or UAS – unmanned aerial system), is simply an aircraft without a human pilot on board it. One could make the case that a quadcopter like the Walkera Ladybird is hardly an “aircraft” given its small size, but technically it is. As you move towards the larger quadcopters, such as the DJI Phantom or the professional grade videography models, it is easier to conceive of these quads as aircraft.
The image that most people have of a drone is of the Predator or Reaper platforms used by the U.S. for tactical engagement (kinetic missile strikes) and Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) missions. Consumer level quadcopters are in a totally different league than the Predator and have very different sizes, capabilities, and physical abilities. For example, the Predator drone is essentially a fixed wing plane, running off of a gasoline engine – physically unlike the quad rotor, electric motor design of quadcopters. Quadcopters are almost exclusively driven by battery power, which restricts their flying time considerably.
Advancements in quadcopter technology will continue to push the envelope in terms of what consumer-level quads are able to do. As capabilities increase, the lines between what we think of as military/government capabilities vs. consumer features may shift. Law enforcement agencies have used quadcopters in search and rescue missions, for example. The U.S. military has several smaller hand-launched UAV systems in use, and could use quadcopters in the future as well. Hope this has helped answer your question “Is a quadcopter a drone?”
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