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Quadcoptera: A Guide to Drone Taxonomy

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As B&H’s chief machine biologist, I get asked a lot of questions from technology owners all over the world: What sort of kibble should I buy for a Nikon D810? Lithium Bits, fortified with extra ions. How tall will a Manfrotto MT055XPRO3 grow? Up to 72" with plenty of sunlight and water and a little fertilizer. What’s the best way to housetrain a Minimoog? Love, patience and plenty of treats. How do I get my Mac Pro to stop clawing the furniture? Lightly spray its face with water and firmly tell it, “no!”

While tech owners have for years stuck with land-based products, today all the kids want drones (known by some as UAVs, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) of their own. While they are found in almost every habitat you can think of, the majority of these majestic multi-rotor aircraft in North America roamed free over the Great Plains in huge flocks for millennia. By the late 19th Century, however, they had been hunted to near-extinction.

Thanks to a careful conservation program championed by President Theodore Roosevelt, their numbers began to grow again and a few were trained by hobbyists and governments alike. For most people, though, drone ownership was out of reach, requiring great amounts of time and knowledge to fly, as well as care for these noble beasts.

Today, however, there are hundreds of breeds of domesticated drones available to the public. So many, in fact, that it can be difficult to figure out which is right for you.

In this article, we’ll break down some of the major categories of Quadcoptera (that’s the scientific name for the order), tell you what they’re all about, and show you how to identify them in the wild.

Miniature/Toy Drones (Quadcoptera bonsaidae)

Small, nimble, and light, these cheerful little dronelets are always ready for fun. They’re perfect for kids and for first-time drone owners who may want to get used to living with a drone before considering a larger breed. Typically indoor-based, toy drones don’t have the motor power of bigger varieties and aren’t as well suited for windy environments.

The Extreme Fliers Micro Drone 3.0 weighs just two ounces and is sold RTF (Ready-to-Fly), which means it’s already been fixed and had all its shots, so there’s no setup for you to do. It comes with a camera, flies at up to 45 mph, and can even fly upside down. Good boy!

Racing Drones (Quadcoptera velocidae)

UAVs have been raced by Siberian reindeer herders for at least a thousand years, and today their sporting tradition has gone global. Bred to be fast and light, the most sought-after racing drones have carbon fiber or composite endoskeletons (known as “airframes” or just “frames”), an adaptation that lets them handle huge cornering forces and the occasional collision without sacrificing weight. Many have LEDs at each corner for identification, as well as cameras for first-person view (FPV) flight. All that racing activity leads to racing drones becoming tired rather quickly, so you’ll want to stock up on extra batteries if you’re sending yours out for several runs.

The ImmersionRC Vortex has a carbon fiber and plastic frame for lightweight stiffness and a vibration-reducing mounting plate for a flight cam and an action cam. Its tuning presets let you configure your controller just by entering some basic information about your future champion into the Vortex on-screen display.

Pack Drones (Quadcoptera fortidae)

The result of hundreds of generations of selective breeding, accomplished simultaneously by Himalayan and Andean peoples, pack drones are workhorses able to carry heavy loads to dizzying heights. They were originally used to transport goods up steep mountain faces but are now enjoying popularity with professional photographers and videographers who need to mount DSLRs, camcorders, and even cinema rigs.

Many are born with a specialized limb called a gimbal, which uses gyroscopic sensors to keep cameras stable and steady for smooth, cinematic shots. Others accept gimbals as aftermarket accessories. Pack drones tend to be fairly complex, with up to eight rotors, and some require assembly before they’re ready to take flight.

This DJI Spreading Wings S1000+ comes with a BMPCC gimbal and has a maximum take-off weight of 24 lb, enabling it to carry DSLRs and similar-sized cameras. This breed is known for its intelligence and has an A2 flight controller that can hold it in a fixed position or fly preset routes, among other tricks.

Camera Drones (Quadcoptera cameridae)

Unlike their heavier-duty big brothers, camera drones are all-purpose UAVs, and are loyal and friendly, making them ideal for families. Most have their own cameras and gimbals or have a place to attach them, as they’re primarily used for aerial photography and videography but lack the grunt of pack drones. Camera drones can perform many of the same tricks as pack drones and are skilled at flying themselves, thanks to skills like obstacle avoidance and the ability to return home if they lose their way.

DJI’s Phantom 4 flies for up to 28 minutes and can reach speeds of nearly 45 mph. Bred as a hunting drone, it has a magnesium exoskeleton, a built-in 12MP camera that shoots 4K video, and a reinforced gimbal. It can track moving objects visually and brakes to avoid obstacles.

Winged Drones (Aeroplania)

While members of the order Aeroplania are distant cousins of Quadcoptera and not considered “true drones” by other machine biologists, winged drones can be enjoyed in many of the same ways. They tend to have long, streamlined bodies flanked by large wings that provide lift in the place of downward-firing rotors. A single propeller on the drone’s head or tail provides propulsion. Unlike Quadcoptera, Aeroplania are unable to hover, but tend to excel at high-speed and long-range flights.

Blade’s FPV Manta has a sleek, swept-wing body and a carbon fiber skeleton, and travels at up to 90 mph with room for a GoPro.

Military Drones (Quadcoptera polimae, Aeroplania polimae)

This is the largest class of Quadcoptera and Aeroplania on the planet, and by far the deadliest. The highest-flying species reach up to 60,000', and some have even been known to attack humans without warning. A few have turbines and subsist on jet fuel, making feeding and veterinary visits quite expensive. Taking one of these for a flight may earn you an awkward meeting with some very annoyed people in uniforms, so I really don’t recommend you attempt to buy one.

If you have any questions about the other species of drones, though, please post them in the Comments section, below.

14 Comments

Hysterical! Makes me want to buy one of each species--or is it genus? I may buy a pack drone to deliver the others. Watch out, Amazon!

Great wit, and great info to boot.

Clearly Machine Biology is the college major of the future.

Thanks! If you're planning to buy more than one as pups, it can be helpful to get them both at once so they can socialize and become friends.

Anonymous wrote:

Clearly Machine Biology is the college major of the future.


Absolutely! It's one of the less-appreciated STEM fields but I'm hoping for growth.

Oh my, the humour! And "Chief Machine Biologist"?!? Very keen description. Frankly I don't believe any civilian would be able to lay their hands on the Quadcoptera/Aeroplania polimæ, but just in case... sound advice!

Great point about Polimae. Those are reserved for our Federal Marketplace section; we've gotta be careful!

Great article! LOL. You should write more as a Machine Biologist. 

Thanks Tom, I hope to!

The term "quad" means "four" So technically any drone having more (or less) than four props is no longer considered a "quadcopter” . That’s why I prefer the catchall term of just simply “drones”

Thanks PD! When these were named by the scientific community (over 100 years ago), non-"quad" drones hadn't yet been discovered, but the name sticks on. It's sort of like how some people tend to refer to all insects as "bugs" even though they're not all true bugs according to the dictionary definition.

Hilarious article! Normally you aviation guys tend to drone on (ha!) when it comes to quads, but this was fun. Keep the jokes coming!

Dear Max - or rather, B&H Chief Machine Biologist,

First - great article! Now I really understand the difference between the various Quadcoptera and which one would be right for me. I'm a family man, so I think I should start with the Quadcoptra Bonsaidae as a first step.  Don't want to scare my wife or alienate my neighbors!

Thanks for amusing me while enlightening me!

Fred

Hey Fred, glad you liked it! Sounds like a Bonsaidae would be perfect for your home. Treat the lil' scrapper with love and affection and before you know it, it'll be a part of your family!

-BHCMB

Max Waldroop wrote:

Hey Fred, glad you liked it! Sounds like a Bonsaidae would be perfect for your home. Treat the lil' scrapper with love and affection and before you know it, it'll be a part of your family!

-BHCMB

LOL!!!!

Sounds like you enjoyed, Chuck! Thanks!

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