Autonomous Drone: All You Need To Know! [2021]

Commercial drone use is a growing global market and it is expected to grow more than tenfold in the next few years. 

However, there are still some people who believe that drones require a massive amount of training to control them properly. 

This couldn’t be further from the truth since some drones are fully or partially autonomous. 

These automated drones come with various smart features that can fly the drone without a pilot manually controlling them. 

Of course, these drones fall on the more expensive side of the market. 

In this article, we will be taking a look at some of the most popular autonomous drones available on the market. 

Some will argue that these drones aren’t fully autonomous so we’ll talk a little bit about fully autonomous drones and self-flying drones. 

Drone

Features

Price

DJI Inspire 2.0 Quadcopter
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 27 minutes
  • Weight: 26 pounds
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus Hexacopter with ST16S Smart...
  • Flight range: 1 mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 4.39 pounds
Parrot BeBop 2 Drone with Skycontroller 2 JoyStick & FPV...
  • Flight range: 1.2 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 - Drone Quadcopter UAV with 20MP...
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 3 pounds
3DR Solo Quadcopter (No Gimbal)
  • Flight range: half a mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 3.3 pounds

What is an autonomous drone?

Autonomous drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that use Artificial Intelligence(AI)-powered navigation and operational software to fly. 

That means that these units do not require a human pilot. 

They may be able to complete tasks and make decisions on their own like deciding when to take off, carry out tasks and land. 

However, not all drones with autonomous capabilities are the same. 

Some units may simply automate a flight.

Other units may be able to automate the entire flight and data cycle.

This means they deal with the preparation for flight, autonomous flight, data gathering, upload and analysis, generation of insights and preparation for the next flight. 

Autonomous drone vs self-flying drone 

The terms autonomous and self-flying/self-piloting have been interchangeable in the past. 

However, one could argue that autonomy is a bigger deal than it is given credit for and self-piloting is simply a baseline feature. 

The basics of autonomy 

You can find several drones on the market with a few self-flyingself-flying modes that enhance flights. 

One of the most popular modes is the Follow Me function. 

There are different ways to implement the following mode but there are only a few ways to initiate it. 

You will have to tell the drone to follow an object or choose a set of GPS coordinates that the drone needs to follow.

This is where people disagree and the debate starts.

Many claim this is not considered to be autonomous because you tell the drone what to do and hit the start button. 

These people believe that true autonomous flight happens when the drone or flight system decides when and where to fly without direct human input. 

True autonomous flights are great for certain industries like farming and security which can send real-time updates, etc so you are aware of issues as they pop up.

However, it can be difficult to rely solely on AI but units like the Skydio R1 and Skydio 2 are fully autonomous.

For the sake of being semantically correct, self-flying or self-piloting is best described as the ability of a drone to perform aerial maneuvers without a human at the controls. 

On the other hand, autonomy is when the drone decides to perform those self-flying actions without human input.

In the end, you can say that self-flying functions are just a part of true autonomous flights.

Uses for autonomous quadcopters and others

autonomous quadcopters inspection

Let’s take a look at some of the industries that make use of autonomous quadcopters and others.

Agriculture 

Agriculture is one industry that has welcomed drones with open arms. 

This industry is heavily drone-powered nowadays. 

Drones in Agriculture are often used to inspect and spraying crops and searching for stray livestock. 

Security  

The potential of drones in parameter security is high even though the process isn’t entirely flawless. 

Hopefully, we’ll see great improvements to the process in the near future. 

Mapping 

Mapping has been greatly enhanced thanks to modern drone technology. 

Environmental mapping not only uses drones but also uses an entirely automated system that helps to speed up the task. 

Autonomous drones on the consumer market

Now that you have a clear idea of true autonomous flights and self-flying modes, we’ll take a look at a few auto drones on the market.

These DO NOT offer true autonomous flight but come with a few self-flying modes that can be beneficial in certain situations.

DJI Inspire 2.0 Quadcopter
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 27 minutes
  • Weight: 26 pounds

The DJI Inspire 2.0 quad is a great self-driving drone for filmmakers with a few cool autonomous flying functions.

It is expensive but considering the specs, it is well worth the price.

First of all, it’s a unit manufactured by one of the biggest names in the drone manufacturing world, DJI.

The Inspire 2 comes with CineCore 2.0 image processing technology and supports recording in both CinemaDNG and Apple ProRes.

It is fully compatible with 5.2K gimbal cameras.

This unit has a range of up to 4.3 miles and a flight time of up to 27 minutes.

It also comes with quick charging features that increase the unit’s overall work efficiency.

The Inspire 2 uses the same dual controller support system as previous models.

However, everything works even better with high responsiveness and smoothness.

Some of the autonomous/self-flying features on the Inspire 2 include Auto Return to Home, Advanced Obstacle Sensing and Follow Me mode.

 


Yuneec Typhoon H Plus Hexacopter with ST16S Smart...
  • Flight range: 1 mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 4.39 pounds

The Yuneec Typhoon H Plus Hexacopter is another unit that falls on the expensive side of the market.

However, this self-flying drone is worth its weight in gold thanks to some incredible specs.

The best thing about it is the use of Intel RealSense Technology.

This technology can be used to create 3D maps to provide positional data when GPS is minimal.

The RealSense technology can also aid in overall obstacle avoidance.

The unit is equipped with retractable landing gear and retractable arms when in flight to ensure minimal damage in the case of a crash or a collision

This is one of the biggest selling points of this drone.

Other than the collision avoidance system, the other reason this drone is preferred is the failsafe feature.

It comes with a 5-rotor fail-safe feature that prevents the drone from dropping and crashing if one of its 6 motors fails.

The Yuneec Typhoon H Plus comes with several automated flight modes.

These include Orbit Me, Point of Interest, Journey, Curve Cable Cam, Follow Me / Watch Me and Dynamic Return to Home.

 

Yuneec Typhoon H Plus Hexacopter with ST16S Smart...
  • Capture 4K Video and 20MP Photos. 360-Degree Image and Video Capture. 3-Axis Sensor-Driven Image...
  • Up to 1 Mile 2.4/5.8 GHz Wi-Fi Range. Flight Controller with 7" Touch Screen.
  • Up to 30 Minutes of Flight Time.
  • Intel RealSense Collision Avoidance. Intelligent Autonomous Flight Modes.
  • Can Withstand Winds up to 35 mph. 5-Rotor Fail Safe Mode.

Parrot BeBop 2 Drone with Skycontroller 2 JoyStick & FPV...
  • Flight range: 1.2 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds

The Parrot BeBop 2 has some wicked specs and even has FPV capabilities.

It is sturdily built and comes with 7 sensors to ensure maximum stability during flight.

The unit sports a 14 Mpx camera but it cannot record in 4K but the full HD res is good enough to give you some crisp footage.

This is because of the awesome encoding system as well as the wide-angle sensor and the 3-axis gimbal stabilization.

To fully enjoy all this drone has to offer, you’ll need to download the FreeFlight Pro app.

The app gives you access to several useful and awesome features including Autonomous Flight Plan, Auto Takeoff, Auto Landing, Waypoints, and more.

The Parrot BeBop 2 when used with the Parrot Sky Controller 2 extends the unit’s range to 1.2 miles.

 

Parrot BeBop 2 Drone with Skycontroller 2 JoyStick & FPV...
  • Box contains: 1 Bebop 2, 1 High-capacity battery, 1 Charger, 1 USB cable, 1 Parrot Skycontroller 2,...
  • Paired with the Parrot Skycontroller 2 and the Parrot Cockpitglasses, your Parrot Bebop 2 drone...

DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 - Drone Quadcopter UAV with 20MP...
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 3 pounds

The DJI Phantom 4 Pro is one of the most popular drones on the market.

This unit comes with a 3-axis motorized gimbal and 1 inch 20 MP CMOS sensor with a mechanical shutter.

The mechanical shutter eliminates rolling shutter distortion to give you sharp image details.

Aside from stunning image quality, the unit also features 5 collision avoidance sensors to prevent you from crashing into a tree or wall.

As if this wasn’t enough, DJI packed this self-flying camera drone with a wide array of autonomous flight modes.

These include TapFly, ActiveTrack, Draw mode, Gesture mode, and more.

When it comes to specs, the Phantom 4 Pro is among the best on the market.

It has a flight time of 30 minutes and approximately 4.3 miles of obstruction-free range.

Download the DJI GO 4 App on your phone and take advantage of all it has to offer when operating the Phantom 4 Pro.

Read more on the DJI Phantom 4 Pro here.

 

DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 - Drone Quadcopter UAV with 20MP...
  • The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 camera drone comes equipped with a 3-axis motorized gimbal and a 1-inch 20MP...
  • The standard controller features a smartphone holder. You will need to install the DJI GO 4 App on...
  • The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 is a beast when it comes to flight performance. It has a maximum flight speed...
  • The Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 offers Intelligent Flight Modes such as TapFly, ActiveTrack, Draw mode,...
  • DJI GO 4 App requires iOS 10.0.2, Android 5.0 or above. Compatible devices include: iPhone 11 Pro...
  • What you get: DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0, Remote Controller, Intelligent Flight, Battery, Charger, Power...
  • Video capture resolution: 4K UHD 2160p

3DR Solo Quadcopter (No Gimbal)
  • Flight range: half a mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 3.3 pounds

The 3DR Solo Quadcopter is an older unit that came out a few years back.

However, it is still relevant today.

Some people struggle while capturing aerial photos and videos.

It can be hard to control the drone and the camera simultaneously.

If this is an issue for you then you need the 3DR Solo.

This drone is made by 3D Robotics and comes fully loaded.

It has 2 Cortex A9 computers located in the controller and the drone itself.

The main function of these is to perform tasks related to autonomous flights.

Some autonomous flight modes on the unit are Cablecam mode and Follow Me.

This unit does not come with a camera and supports a GoPro HERO3+ or HERO4 action camera.

The 3DR Solo is a powerful and one-of-a-kind drone that flies itself so you can focus on capturing stunning footage with just a few simple taps.

Use the Full-featured iOS or Android app to receive total craft control at your fingertips.

The 3DR Solo also offers live streaming of HD video from your GoPro directly to your mobile device, as well as built-in HDMI for live broadcast in HD.

For more on the 3DR Solo, click the link.

3DR Solo Quadcopter (No Gimbal)
  • Solo’s video game-style controller will feel familiar the second you pick it up, even if you’ve...
  • In case you missed it in the picture…that’s a high-quality HDMI port directly from the...
  • Full-featured app for iOS and Android puts total craft control at your fingertips.

The most popular autonomous/self-flying modes explained

automated drones mountain

You would have noticed in our reviews of the drone above, we’ve mentioned a few autonomous modes.

If you have no idea what some of this means or how they work, this section will clear some of it up for you.

Follow Me

Follow me mode work in either of two ways. 

It can either work using GPS or software recognition technology. 

The process is very simple; you select an object or subject you wish to focus on and the drone follows it wherever it goes. 

Cable Cam 

Cablecom mode allows you to program a route that your drone will follow in straight lines. 

However, some drones like the Yuneec Typhoon H have curved Cablecam. 

Curved cable cam does the same thing but instead of straight lines, the drone uses a curved pattern. 

Waypoints 

The waypoints feature allows you to designate a specific path or route for the drone to follow. 

In autonomous flight, customization is of utmost importance. 

Waypoints mode in some drones allows you to configure flying speed, altitude, camera rotations and other options. 

Selfie 

Taking a selfie with your phone is easy but how do you capture the perfect selfie with a drone? 

This is where Selfie mode comes to the rescue. 

This feature tells your drone to fly away from you and snap a perfect aerial selfie from roughly 50 to 150 feet away. 

Orbit 

The orbit mode is a bit self-explanatory. 

Once activated, the drone will orbit around you, the object or subject of your choice. 

You may be able to manually configure specific details such as object/ person focus, flying altitude, speed and possibly more as it all depends on the drone you have. 

Return to home(RTH) 

The Return to Home function is an essential safety feature that most modern-day drones are equipped with. 

RTH uses GPS and remembers your take-off location.

It returns the drone to the take-off location in the event the battery runs low or if the drone experiences connectivity issues. 

FAQs: Autonomous drones

Is it legal to leave my controller to the side while my drone is in the air?

There is no explicit rule or regulation set up by the FAA regarding this.

You won’t find any rule saying that you must have your controller or your hands on the controls of your drone at all times.

At the moment, it is legal to leave your controller to the side while your drone is safely flying itself.

However, you are still responsible for anything that happens during that flight so ensure the drone is self-piloting safely.

Can I fly a second drone if my other is flying safely?

Unfortunately, you cannot as the FAA made it clear that there must be one pilot per drone in the air.

The only way you can fly 2 drones at a time is if you have an approved waiver.

Even in commercial operations, there is only one Part 107 certified Pilot in command for 1 drone in the sky. 

The Part 107 certified Pilot in Command cannot oversee multiple pilots at the same time. 

Conclusion

While some debate that autonomous and self-flying aren’t the same, they can all agree that drones with autonomous or self-flying functions are awesome.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner or a skilled pilot that wants to concentrate on other aspects of drone photography and videography, autonomous flight functions will make it possible.

All you need to do is to make sure you keep monitoring the unit while it is safely self-piloting.

Drones with autonomous flight functions are also gaining popularity and making a difference in several industries or organizations around the globe.

It is clear that autonomous drone technology is here to stay and will play an important role in shaping the future of industrial and other operations.

Drone

Features

Price

DJI Inspire 2.0 Quadcopter
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 27 minutes
  • Weight: 26 pounds
Yuneec Typhoon H Plus Hexacopter with ST16S Smart...
  • Flight range: 1 mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 4.39 pounds
Parrot BeBop 2 Drone with Skycontroller 2 JoyStick & FPV...
  • Flight range: 1.2 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 1.1 pounds
DJI Phantom 4 Pro V2.0 - Drone Quadcopter UAV with 20MP...
  • Flight range: 4.3 miles
  • Flight Time: 30 minutes
  • Weight: 3 pounds
3DR Solo Quadcopter (No Gimbal)
  • Flight range: half a mile
  • Flight Time: 25 minutes
  • Weight: 3.3 pounds

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