A drone is an electronic sUAS (small unmanned aerial system) that is controlled either remotely or autonomously. The most common type of sUAS is the "quadcopter". Quadcopters feature four propellers to provide lift. Two propellers spin in one direction while the other two propellers spin in the opposite direction. This provides a very balanced drone that is easier to fly and control when used with the latest stabilisation technology.
The laws and regulations that cover drones vary by country and most now allow for the easy operation of drones. Some countries require you to simply register your drone with aviation authorities and sit a very basic online test, such as the UK and most of the European member states of EASA (the European Aviation Safety Agency that sets and enforces air law for all aircraft including sUAS). When using the camera on a drone, you must also adhere to the local privacy laws for standard photography as these also apply to sUAS (drones are flying cameras ultimately). Always check the laws and restrictions in your country before operating your device.
The majority of use has been focused around photography and videography, security, education, surveying and agriculture. Drones are a very popular low-cost way of taking aerial photographs and moving images. Most drones now have inbuilt cameras. These feature gimbal systems that provide incredible image stabilisation. Drones are incredibly popular in education, with many universities and higher education establishments using drones in Geology, Geography, Biology, Surveying, Contruction and TV Media courses.
Drones are remote controlled (RC), which gives you freedom where it can be used. However, there is a limit to the distance and altitude that the drone can travel from you and in most case legal restrictions require that as a minimum the drone is kept in sight at all times and that you do not fly over crowds or built up areas or near other objects. The flight time can vary dramatically between models dependent upon battery charge. Top end models such as ours typically last up to 25 minutes on one full charge. Some models offer an "automatic obstacle avoidance mode" that provides you with an added level of protection when you are starting out.
Although this varies by model, RC drones are typically operated from either a remote controller or from an app or software that is installed on a smartphone or tablet. Some drones are plug and play, and you can use them immediately out of the box.
In the public sector, the police and fire service now fly drones to support public safety duties, as do coastguards and sea rescue services, especially for inshore operations. They are used for port control by monitoring boundaries, helping construction companies survey large areas of land and produce 3D records of historic buildings for future preservation. Drones can calculate large areas of product (such as coal at power stations) adding to efficiency and productivity. Many roof inspections are now done by drone as it saves erecting scaffolding and working at height. For some years, drones have been used to inspect oil rigs and wind turbines, especially when offshore to reduce costs. With increasing automation, after market software and new payloads such as Infra-Red cameras, the use of drones in everyday li