How does a drone work in simple terms?
What is a drone in the first place? What can it do? How do we gain from using drones in our video making efforts? And are there laws and regulations we need to consider, when flying a drone?
Let's learn about these and more, about this video production tool called, the drone.
But before we answer, "How does a drone work?", let's get to know first what a drone is.
A drone is an aircraft that you can…
You may view it as a robot that can fly, without a human pilot on board.
The formal term for the drone is, “unmanned aerial vehicle” (or, UAV).
The only reason, this intelligent machine can fly autonomously is this—a human on the ground has programmed flight plans, in the drone's system. So, it is still... Humans over machines.
Moreover, drones have a long relationship with the military. But drones have also found their way, and usefulness to civilians.
This unmanned aerial vehicle is both complex and simple.
"Complex"... because a drone is the result of putting together very technical things—including computer, artificial intelligence, physics, camera, etc.
"Simple"... because a civilian—or, an everyday person—who uses a drone, finds that its user interface is relatively plain. It feels like you’re just using a video game controller. Not manipulating a jet plane's control panel.
A hobbyist commonly uses a drone called, "the quadcopter".
A quadcopter is simply a helicopter that has four rotors. That's why it's also known as, “quadrotor helicopter”.
It is a form of drone, or UAV, that is popular among ordinary people who love to shoot videos from above.
“Drone” didn’t mean "UAV"—or “unmanned aerial vehicle”, in the past.
“Drone” originally meant a male honeybee…
“Drone” also meant a monotonous buzzing, or humming sound. Just like what you can hear from the bees.
The British used a radio-controlled aircraft, called “Queen Bee”, sometime in 1935. It's an unpiloted flying machine, used as object for target practice.
Somehow, the name “Queen Bee” led to the use of “drone” to also mean…
… an aircraft without a pilot on board.
And think about it...
A typical drone we fly nowadays, really sound like the buzzing of a bee—or “drone”. This may have stimulated people to give “drone” a different meaning.
Today, we use the words “drone” and “unmanned aerial vehicle” interchangeably.
We normally use the word “drone” to mean, the quadcopter used by hobbyists.
But, when we hear “UAV” or “unmanned aerial vehicle”, we sense some formality in the term. It feels like, “UAV” is more associated with drones used by government.
Also, some say DRONE is an acronym—which stands for “Dynamic Remotely Operated Navigation Equipment”.
Aerospace engineer Abraham Karem is considered to be the drone inventor.
He was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1937.
But, in 1951, his family moved to Israel where he grew up. There, he graduated from Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, as an aeronautical engineer.
Abraham relocated to US, in the 70s, where he built “Albatross”—his first drone.
His undying love for aeronautics, enabled him to make a better drone called, “Amber”.
Later on, “Amber” became Abraham’s basis for developing the “Predator” drone.
Know that the early forms of drone Abraham made, were not yet quadcopters. Instead, they were drones having fixed wings—like the “Predator” drone.
So, you may ask, Who invented the quadcopter drone specifically?
To answer that, consider that there those who are trying to constantly improve, and evolve this unmanned aerial vehicle. So, there are several sources of drones.
And it’s hard to say, who the real inventor of the quadcopter drone is. But our takeaway is this...
Technology progresses, because humans have the insatiable hunger to create or invent.
Machines that we know today—like quadcopter drones—are likely to get even better, and more sophisticated in the future.
Inventor Abraham Karem is most known for the “Predator” drone. It’s because this UAV carried weapons. It’s a warfare drone.
He and the United States, produced the “Predator”, in 1996.
However, some say that the first UAV existed earlier than 1996. And that's the “Queen Bee”—which others consider to be the first modern drone. It appeared in 1935.
Now, notice that we’ve been talking about military drones. But how about drones that civilians and ordinary people use?
Well, there are few important milestones in history, regarding drones for civilian and consumer use…
- In 2006, US Government permitted the use of drones, to help in rescue and relief operations.
Drones with thermal cameras aided in search operations—by reading the heat signatures of people from afar, who needed to be rescued.
Also, many companies were developing drones, to better suit the needs of consumers and businesses, near this period of time.
- In 2010, smartphones gained the capacity to control drones.
Parrot—a French drone maker—released the small quadcopter drone for the consumer. You just needed an app on your smartphone, to fly that thing.
- In 2013, consumers became strongly interested in drones, with built-in cameras.
It's when DJI company brought out their Phantom drone series. Many video enthusiasts, then, set out to fly their drones, to capture aerial shots.
Or, what are drones capable of?
Now, let's discuss them one by one...
Even a hobby drone can go as far as 3 miles away, from the person who controls it.
But, a more advanced drone can travel beyond that. It can hover so high above the land, that people underneath that drone couldn't easily notice it.
Therefore, they can avoid obstacles.
To do that, drones use some obstacle avoidance technology. They use sensors and detectors, that enable them to pass through tight spaces... safely.
They’re able to do that, with the help of Global Positioning System—or, GPS—and the programmed flights, set by the drone operator.
Depending on a drone’s model, it can shoot high definition—or, HD—videos, like 1080p. Other models can shoot ultra high definition—or, UHD—videos, like 4K.
More advanced UAVs even use infrared, that’s useful for shooting at night, and for detecting heat that humans and objects give off.
Because of drone’s capabilities—which become better and more powerful, as technology progresses—humans have found excellent uses of drones.
Drones are not only for military purposes, but for recreational and commercial purposes, as well.
These UAVs help in video coverage, film making, and aerial photography. Even in surveillance, rescue, and giving public service announcements—for instance, during pandemic.
Here are some key benefits of using drones in shooting videos...
Now, let's discuss these advantages one by one...
Using a drone, and viewing the output of using it, are both engaging.
As humans, we love to see how birds see the world, from high above. We want to experience that unique viewpoint.
Shooting a drone video is engaging. That feel of piloting an aircraft in space, while you're standing on the ground, is unique. You get to see things, you don’t normally see in your everyday life.
And the resulting video is compelling to watch. Drone footage—like aerial shots of happenings on the ground—can really engage you and your audience.
Shooting videos using a drone is very cheap, compared to renting a helicopter to film aerial shots.
Big film studios can afford costly helicopter, or airplane shots.
But for indie film makers, amateurs, and beginners, that highly sought-after aerial video, is more doable with a drone. It's a low-cost solution to recording aerial shots.
A drone may be an advanced tool. But an everyday person can still find it easy to learn to operate. In fact, more and more civilians are owning and using drones, for video making.
One motivation to learn how to fly a drone, is the efficiency it brings. It does the job in less time, with lesser effort. How easy it is, to get an establishing shot with a drone?
A drone can fly so low, just above the ground. So you can get that fascinating, low-angle tracking shot.
The drone has applications in military, non-military, and creative fields. Here's some examples…
We’re not going to talk about drones for warfare—those that carry weapons, like missiles.
We’re just talking about using drones, to record videos of war happenings—that is, war reporting. With drones, journalists can safely cover a war, without risking their own lives, just to get close to the action.
Some filmmakers use drones, as tools for expressing their visions. Drones enable them to show their viewers, alternative viewpoints of this world.
“Drone journalism” now exists.
Drones can provide aerial footage for news agencies, and TV programs. A sample footage is a live video feed from a drone, covering the traffic situation in an area.
You can also use a drone to take aerial photographs. And you may want to use those photographs, in two ways…
Who doesn’t know what a selfie is? ;-)
With a drone, you can get video selfies—alone, or with family and friends.
One obvious difference is you’re not going to use a selfie stick. Instead, you'll use the joysticks of your drone’s remote controller.
If we are to study how a drone works in a video shoot, it will involve 3 things…
First, let’s talk about the drone’s capacity to fly…
A drone can fly because of…
A drone is usually made of light materials, so it can easily cruise. Its propellers lift it from the ground.
The common drone that we know moves vertically—meaning,...
Now, the drone’s control system and navigation are a bit more sophisticated.
Since you’re on the ground, you have a remote control for your drone. That controller normally uses a smartphone, to wirelessly connect to the drone that you operate.
But the drone is not a merely remote-controlled machine. Remember, it has some degree of autonomy. You don’t have to manually control it all the time.
You can also set a flight route for your drone, so that when it flies, it stabilizes itself. It can do that because it's equipped with GPS technology.
Now, let’s move on to the drone’s capacity to stabilize your shots…
The drone has its own gimbal. The drone gimbal is the camera stabilizer of the drone. It is what enables the drone to give you stable shots, even though the drone is flying.
So, how does a drone gimbal work?
The drone gimbal cancels any vibrations, just like the handheld gimbal. The result is the camera records motion, that's smooth and pleasing to the eyes.
Try watching a drone footage. Especially the part where…
You get the effect that you’re watching a steadicam shot. And then, it feels like the steadicam operator is also floating through space.
A drone gimbal has a part that holds the camera. It also has sensors and motors that keep the camera stable, resulting in smooth shots.
You’ve heard about the 3-axis gimbal, right?
That’s the kind of gimbal that the common drone has. A drone gimbal has 3 motors—very essential for taking professional-looking aerial videos, and photos.
If you wish to own a drone, you may want to choose a drone with built-in gimbal and camera.
Because your video creation life will be easier. The parts of such a drone are already matched with each other. The drone will just fly, shoot videos, and stabilize your shots optimally, as you operate the drone.
Finally, let’s talk about the drone’s capacity to shoot videos and images…
A quadcopter—or the drone that has 4 rotors—has an integrated camera located at the drone's center.
So, how does drone camera work?
In a nutshell, this camera works, when the drone receives signal from the remote control you're operating. You can tell the camera to record videos and take photos. You can also adjust the drone camera settings, using the remote control.
Now, here's some key details of what’s happening…
So, there you have it! Important information about, "how does a drone work" in video shoots, explained in simple terms.
Also, some supplemental info, to help you better understand one of the tools you can use to make engaging videos--the drone.