Have you ever wondered about drone trends and where they are headed? Drones, or at least consumer drones, started out initially as a hobby for a very small gathering of enthusiasts.
Over a rather short period of time though, that gathering grew to a rather respectable size, prompting more and more drone manufacturers to appear on the market.
These manufacturers offer more and more innovative drones, more and more advanced flight solutions, as well as more and more features that make the experience of flying a drone a lot more enjoyable than in the past.
Even the FCC took note of the rising popularity of drones, which led to the implementation of proper regulations.
At the same time, manufacturers got a sturdy set of ground rules which actually help them come up with even more innovative solutions.
But we all wonder about the future. Manufacturers announce new models and prototypes; however, the bigger picture is still a mystery. That being said, we can look at what the current trends are today and see the general direction drones are heading into.
The drones of today, at least when compared with the ones from the past, have a lot of improvements and features that they bring to the table. It’s hard to remember that, especially when we take most of them for granted.
However, nowadays there is an entire list of things to take into consideration before buying your drone.
It is not uncommon to see drones with either built-in cameras or camera mounting options.
The built-in cameras can range anywhere from 240p to 1080p, depending on the drone itself. Some even offer extras like night vision and thermal tracking which would’ve been unheard of a few years back.
There are also drones designed to work well with third-party cameras and devices. These cameras can range depending on the make and model and they are designed to be light, thin, and small without having to sacrifice any actual performance.
Another thing to note here is the fact that these cameras come with an assortment of lenses that can either be configured when ordering the drones, or be swapped around if the camera permits it.
These mechanisms are a lot more important than they first let on. They are responsible for the stability of the camera and the compensation that needs to take place in order to obtain perfectly still and balanced shots regardless of flight conditions.
That being said, the gimbal mechanisms have evolved quite a bit, becoming available on 1, 2 and 3 axis, depending on your preferences and needs.
One of the biggest innovations here came with the 3-gimbal axis, making the mechanisms able to compensate for vibrations and turbulence that occurs especially when trying to hover over different surface levels.
This feature is especially wanted by aerial filming and photography professionals, making it a lot easier for them to capture their footage without having to constantly compensate for vibrations, turbulence, the wind, etc.
The very latest mechanisms actually allow the pilot to actively control them from the controller, making it possible to adjust the angle and pitch of the camera without even moving the drone, as well as fine tune the mechanism in flight.
Flying a drone is not exactly hard. However, it is not exactly easy either, so the manufacturers have come up with interesting safety measures in order to prolong the lifespan of the drones as well as their various components when in the hands of novice and inexperienced pilots.
- Propeller guards are by far some of the most popular and non-invasive protection measures out there. They are simple circular struts that go around the propellers and are designed to protect them in case they hit something.
- Bumper feet, or rubber shoes as they are commonly known, are little rubber balls that go on the feet of the drones. These help the pilots land and learn how to land without doing damage to the drone.
- The drone body is by far one of the most overlooked protection measures out there. This is because it’s not only there to protect the components from the weather, but also provides an extra layer of shock absorption in case something goes wrong. The body can be made out of anything from plastic to metal to carbon fiber while keeping an aerodynamic shape and balanced weight all around.
- The propellers have grown more and more flexible over the years while still strong and sturdy enough to reliably displace enough air for the drone to fly and maneuver properly. These propellers are made out of thin plastic, inexpensive and easy to repair and replace depending on the situation.
One last thing to note here is the lighting that modern drones come with. Depending on the make and model of the drone, it will come with a series of lighting options.
These lights are there to help the pilot see the drone at night and even figure out where it is pointing in the darkest of conditions.
One of the biggest improvements that have been brought to drones is the smart software. Features like safe return home are probably some of the biggest hits on the market.
This feature allows the drone to keep track of its own position from the take-off point and safely return to it automatically if anything happens, like the signal being lost or system failure.
Headless flight is another feature that has had drone enthusiasts jumping for joy. This eliminates the front/back flight notion, meaning that the drone will behave differently when flying, turning and maneuvering.
Headless flight allows for special acrobatic flying as well as special maneuvers that are otherwise incredibly hard to execute.
Track target, a function that is only accessible to the professional drones, for now. The feature allows the drone to lock on to a target and follows it around.
The flight parameters, like altitude and general pitch can be altered in-flight, making for a far safer and far smoother flight. It goes without saying that this feature is highly sought after by filming enthusiasts.
Another smart feature, which is not really talked about, is Blind Flight. This feature helps the drone scan its surroundings and detect obstacles and safely avoid them. This works great for avoiding small branches and other such obstacles, especially when flying the drone while watching it from the ground.
Autopilot systems were not things that were actually envisioned for drones in the past, however they still managed to make their way on the drawing board. Granted, they don’t come as standard, however there are autopilot flight systems for the vast majority of drones out there.
They can be programmed and set up in such a way that the drone can do all the flying, including take-off and landing without you even needing to pick up the controller.
First person view options were and still are in high demand. It’s easy to see why since it’s incredibly tricky to fly a drone from the ground.
There are many obstacles and many things to take into account, not to mention all the times that the sun got into your eyes accidentally.
FPV solutions are probably some of the biggest blessings for drone pilots out there because it allows them to get a first person view of the flight, from the drone’s point of view.
This is especially helpful for pilots who are using drones for filming and photography purposes. It allows them to fly their drone in tricky areas, maneuver around obstacles, and even do things like getting high-speed chase footage and panoramic flight footage.
The Modding Community
Modifications, or mods, are usually performed by experienced pilots in order to boost their capabilities and shift performances around to better suit their needs.
However, this voids the warranty and if something goes wrong with the modification and it ends up breaking your drone, you’re on your own.
This is why there is an entire community behind this practice, constantly keeping in touch with each other, coming up with ideas and solutions, fixes and patches to make mods better and better.
This helps the pilots to not only fine tune their drones but also breathe life into old drones, making them useful again.
It goes without saying that the modding community more or less goes against every single guideline put out by drone manufacturers out there.
Still, they are making their presence felt and manufacturers are starting to take them into consideration when designing their future lines and products.
You can say that members of the modding community hold the drone future in their capable hands.
If you take a closer look at the models on the market today, you’ll see several clear hints and clear signs in regards to where the drones are heading; at least for the foreseeable future.
Advanced Co-pilot Systems
There are certain co-pilot systems out there that are supposed to make your drone a lot easier to fly, putting the drone’s software more in charge than the actual pilot. This helps with filming and various other such tasks that require you to focus on other things than flying.
Currently there are 2 major co-pilot systems in the design stage that are designed to shift even more of the responsibilities to the point where you don’t have to worry about flying the drone and you can just focus on your work.
A Better Application for The Drone Camera
This was initially made to work in conjunction with special smart software, however the horizon has been widening since then.
The idea here would be that the drone software can use the built-in camera to scan around and detect objects as well as obstacles that can damage and endanger the drone.
Nothing out of the ordinary there, there are drones that already do this to this very day, but they do so in a rather restricted fashion.
There are a lot of drone manufacturers that are trying to give a lot more independence and a lot more autonomy to drones by maximizing their potential in that regard.
New technologies are usually designed to make flying easier. For example, the Panoptes Ebumper 4 – a small drone that relies on sonar to detect nearby obstacles and dangers – avoids obstacles without bothering the pilot with this choice.
Another new system that was promised is a drone guiding system that relies on infra-red sensors and receivers to allow the drone see its surroundings and avoid everything on its own, as long as the speed is not too high.
Another innovation, which is currently on the drawing board, is a way in which pilots can actually handle and operate the camera to its full extent while in flight. With this technology you’ll do a lot more than just pointing the camera in the right direction or fiddling with the gimbal settings.
The idea is to make everything from filters to lighting to lens settings to the most advanced bitrate and recording options available at your fingertips off of your tablet or controller. This one is, however, quite a long way from hitting the shelves.
One of the massive issues that drone pilots have to deal with is the number of hardware restrictions. The biggest of which are the battery life and power restrictions.
Even the most expensive of drones still have around 20-25 minutes of flight time per battery and having more than one fully charged battery on you at a time is actually a normal occurrence. Especially if you plan on using your drone for image and video capture.
Drone manufacturers are currently experimenting with different battery solutions as well as trying to design ways in which to obtain a bigger, more powerful battery.
Meanwhile, Sunlight Photonics already announced that they will be releasing a drone that is able to use sunlight in order to fly in the near future.
The modding community is playing a massive role when it comes to battery and power solutions. They managed to come up with different workarounds for drones that are severely underpowered, often boosting their battery life by 70-80%.
The actual brain of future drones was announced to receive substantial upgrades as well, with the new smart drones being well on their way to the market.
These are basically drones that are outfitted with the equivalent performances of desktop computers, providing the pilot with more than enough processing and computing power in order to handle some of the more intricate and advanced systems out there.
The storage solutions that drones come with are also undergoing evolution changes. The first move is to replace the small memory cards with dedicated solid state drives and even expansion bays that allow for increased storage space on demand for extra-long filming sessions and photo shoots.
One last thing to discuss here would be the actual control input that drones come with. The controller itself will be undergoing massive transformations, which have already started to take place.
Manufacturers are starting to move away from the big blocky square box controllers with a lot of controls spaced out and spread across it and its edges.
The approach that they are all going for is a more user-friendly one; a design that closely mimics gaming console controller design as well as different specific peripherals that can be attached and used depending on the drone and the add-ons that are installed on it.
This makes it a lot easier for pilots to fly, regardless of experience, as well as a lot easier for drone manufacturers to come up with new features and designs for controllers.
What The Future Holds
There are still many different ways in which the trends of evolution can go, especially when it comes to drones. Still, we are free to imagine, as anything and everything goes.
What we can be certain of is the fact that drones will carry on evolving and bring more features to the table. Slowly, but surely, drones will grow and all their current shortcomings will be resolved and improved upon.
Change is coming, especially for drones and their pilots, and we have nothing but good things to look forward to from the innovation trends that they are following.