Drones have been a trending topic for some time now. From the recent release of DJI’s Mini 3 Pro to the promises of drone deliveries from Walmart, this year has seen significant activity from the drone industry. More importantly, drones are becoming specialized. Not all of them fulfill the same role. This specialization is a meaningful indicator of the progression and future of drone technology. In this article, we break down the two general categories of UAVs.
Commercial vs. Recreational
Generally speaking, there are two categories of drones: commercial and recreational. Recreational drones are the aircraft whose footage you might see on YouTube. Popular with hobbyists and online content creators, recreational drones offer features attractive to the general public, including larger camera sensors, portability, and vertical shooting modes.
One drone popular with recreational pilots is DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro. Equipped with a Hasselblad sensor and automated capture modes, it offered high-quality image capture. As a result, the Mavic 2 Pro quickly become a staple for aerial cinematographers.
However, some of these features are not as relevant outside of recreational circles. Commercial drones, for example, rely on different capabilities to accomplish their missions. Let’s take a closer look at what we mean.
Commercial Drone Examples
Commercial drones are designed for technical applications like surveillance or inspections. Therefore, commercial aircraft developers prioritize transmission quality, zoom range, and thermal imaging integrations. These pilots are not looking for cinematic quality. Instead, they require features that ensure safety, reliability, and clarity in the field.
DJI’s lesser-known Mavic 2 Enterprise Advanced (M2EA), on the other hand, was made for a different purpose. Using the Mavic 2 Pro airframe, the M2EA traded the cinema camera for a zoom optical camera and a thermal sensor. This allows pilots to detect hot spots at fires, locate missing people, or identify temperature differences. Furthermore, the M2EA included a mount for external payloads like a spotlight, speaker, or RTK (Real-Time Kinematic) module. All of these features tailor the M2EA for several special applications.
The previous example is a great comparison between commercial and recreational drones because it highlights the priorities of commercial pilots. Since the launch of the M2EA, DJI, Autel, and several other companies are building drones specifically for commercial use including:
- DJI Matrice 300 RTK
- DJI Matrice 30 T
- Autel EVO II Enterprise
- Autel Dragonfish
- Teal Golden Eagle
- FLIR R80D SkyRaider
Commercial drones take on several specialized roles.
With the help of drones, firefighters are able to see through smoke and debris, directing resources to the source of the fire. Firefighters have also used them for prescribed burns and wild land management.
Several law enforcement agencies deploy drones for event security, vehicle pursuits, and SWAT team support conducting overwatch. An aerial overview is an advantage for officers, alerting them of dangers and making their operations more efficient.
Defense operators use drones, like FLIR’s Black Hornet, for missions known as “ISR,” or Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance. Their discrete size and powerful sensor allow soldiers to scout enemy positions and movements with an extremely low auditory signature.
Frequent inspections of oil and electrical infrastructures pose a challenge to many companies. Areas of interest are remote and inaccessible to personnel. Harsh weather conditions further complicate the task. Fortunately, many commercial drones are weather-rated and stream inspection data from their cameras. Additionally, software enables several models to automatically conduct inspections at set intervals.
The nature of commercial drone missions requires a specialized set of features for an aircraft to accomplish the objectives we mentioned. Technology has reached a point where it can easily and autonomously achieve tasks, furthering the development of commercial UAVs.
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