How Do I Choose the Best Flying Robot?

Gregory Hanson

When shopping for a flying robot, a customer should first determine what functionality he or she requires from a robot and then select the best model for that particular task. Airborne robots are now available in a wide variety of styles, ranging from substantial unmanned aerial vehicles to tiny micro-aerial vehicles. Some are highly-sophisticated intelligence-gathering, surveillance or utility machines. Others are complicated toys.

Quadcopters, which are the most popular type of personal flying robot, can be used for creating movies, racing, or land management.
Quadcopters, which are the most popular type of personal flying robot, can be used for creating movies, racing, or land management.

Recent advances in robotics have enabled designers to produce sturdy aerial drone vehicles. While some of these are designed exclusively for use by military or police agencies, other flying robots with similar capabilities are produced for the civilian market. These robots usually feature advanced sensor packages and control systems and have long operational ranges. Such vehicles are quite expensive but offer excellent oversight and surveillance capabilities for scientific teams, security services, or any other well-funded groups with the need to monitor a large area. The operating range, communications gear, sensors, performance, and other technical specifications of such a robot should be matched to the task it will perform.

Before buying any personal drone, make sure that its compatible with the computer systems you intend to use it with.
Before buying any personal drone, make sure that its compatible with the computer systems you intend to use it with.

Several varieties of tiny flying robot are also available. These devices are also quite expensive, as they require precise engineering and a whole suite of miniaturized electronic devices and sensors. This type of flying robot is typically produced for and used by research institutions. They may be used to study and advance miniaturization technologies or to examine new modes of flight, such as the use of insect-style wings. This type of robot will usually be custom-built or ordered, and should exactly match the specifications of the research project with which it will be associated.

Before buying a personal drone, check to see if it comes with a high quality camera or can lift one as an attachment.
Before buying a personal drone, check to see if it comes with a high quality camera or can lift one as an attachment.

Most home consumers will shop for a flying robot that falls somewhere in between these two extremes. Ambitious hobbyists can purchase or build small flying machines, such as model airplanes or helicopters, and convert them into robots. This process involves the addition of sensor packages and other instrumentation and requires gear that is expensive but within the price range of a moderately well-funded hobbyist.

Hexacopter's are larger, more complicated, and usually more expensive than quadcopters, however they can lift more equipment.
Hexacopter's are larger, more complicated, and usually more expensive than quadcopters, however they can lift more equipment.

Smaller ready-made flying robots have become readily available in recent years, with many models using a quadrotor design. This configuration is an excellent choice for new robot owners, as it is good at self-correcting during flight. Some models can be controlled using a typical smartphone, and programs to automate this sort of robot can be written relatively easily with the aid of freely-available resources. These robots are only modestly expensive and include fairly sophisticated control and observation systems. A consumer should evaluate the range, flight time, controls, and sensor capabilities when shopping for such a robot.

Winged drones cannot hover like quadcopters, however they are useful for land surveying because they can fly for longer distances.
Winged drones cannot hover like quadcopters, however they are useful for land surveying because they can fly for longer distances.

Many brands of toy robots are also available. These are typically not terribly sophisticated. They are inexpensive, however, and are an excellent choice for anyone who wishes to tinker with a flying robot, as the cost of a failed experiment is modest.

A teach pendant may be used to control robots.
A teach pendant may be used to control robots.

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