I hate to crush your “Top Gun” dreams, but there are some things you’ll want to consider before you buy a drone.
Sure, the latest drones are are a far cry from the unmanned military aircraft that ominously patrol the skies. They’re no longer the ultra-geeky toys that hobbyists build from scratch. Instead, they’re now lightweight, ready to go out of the box, relatively inexpensive and controllable using the smartphone in your pocket.
In fact, 16 self-identified drone companies showed off devices at this year’s International CES in Las Vegas — compared with four at the 2014 CES. And that’s just a portion of the field.
But, what can you do with these things? How do they work? Aren’t there Federal Aviation Administration limits on what you can do with them and where they can fly? How do they get fixed? When will magical drones start dropping packages on my doorstep? And how safe — or dangerous — are they? (I found out firsthand.)
This week, I rounded up answers to these questions and some other basic information to help you learn more about drones.
Most personal drones are quadcoptors, a fancy term you can casually drop at your next party as one buzzes past and takes a photo of you and your friends. This means that four rotors lift and move the drone, giving it stability and making it relatively easy to fly.
Some drones come in mini sizes that fit in your hand, while others measure more than 20 inches long. Their aerodynamic bodies encourage lighter weights, like one I tried that weighed less than a pound. But some are still hefty, at close to seven pounds. They come in a variety of colors, including some that can be modified and changed for fun.
But don’t be fooled: Flying one of these things isn’t as easy as you might expect, and it can be harder depending on the model you’re using.
Some drones work with a remote control with tactile buttons, allowing you to operate the drone without looking down. But others connect to your smartphone or tablet and use an app as the drone’s remote control. While this is a more convenient solution, it can be challenging because you can’t feel different buttons or controls on a glass screen.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com