What is the Difference Between a Quadcopter and a Drone?

“Drone” – we hear the word all the time nowadays. Whether it's on the television, in the papers or whilst browsing the internet, the term has become very familiar to us all. “Quadcopter”, however, is far less familiar to us – even though the product they are attached to is instantly recognisable.

In reality “drones” and “quadcopters” are largely two sides of the same coin. Drone is the more commonly used term. It's the term that is more often associated with these types of products than the other. but there are subtle differences that add some distinction. The easiest way to understand what separates the terms is by first outlining clear, concise definitions for each.

What's a drone?

A drone is a widely-employed umbrella term encompassing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) – aircraft that do not rely on an onboard pilot to operate.

What's a quadcopter

Quadcopter, on the other hand, defines a drone which is specifically a rotary-wing aircraft that is controlled by four rotors that work in tandem to propel and control the flight of the vehicle. Unlike propeller-based aircraft such as helicopters, the RC quadcopter doesn’t have a tail rotor, relying on the movement of its propeller blades to manoeuvre. In some cases, they are referred to by other names but quadcopter has become the alias of choice.

Here, we will not be discussing the difference between a quadcopter and a drone. Rather, we will discuss the features and specifications that a quadcopter does, or doesn't, possess, that distinguish it from the other UAVs in the family.

What are the differences between a quadcopter and a drone?

Propulsion system

In aforementioned short descriptions, the immediate difference focuses on product specificity – particularly with regards the method of propulsion. Drones, representing a generic term for UAVs, mean a greater range of aerodynamic designs – helicopters, octocopters, hexacopters, tricopters and planes. So, with drones, the propulsion systems can vary. These systems also afford faster speeds and longer periods of flight than an RC quadcopter is capable of.

Navigation systems

Both the quadcopter and drones in general are UAVs. Both can be piloted by off-board remote control or independently using onboard computer programming. Though, there was a time when the quadcopter was exclusively a remote-controlled unit.

Stereotypical drone units require GPS navigation that draw in signals from orbiting satellites in order to determine speed, position and time. Once its path has been mapped out, it has the capability to navigate to its destination autonomously, and even correct its plan should any errors arise.

The quadcopter – particularly ones sold commercially – remain predominantly remote-controlled. But, given how efficient and cost-effective they are to produce, manufacturers have found applications that require both remote control and GPS framework. This unique system ensures precise flight patterns and improved monitoring.

Application

Where the quadcopter potentially differs most from the drone is in the application of the machines. This aspect has led to the most confusion regarding the definitions. Drones represent unmanned aerial vehicles that serve militaristic purposes like warfare, surveillance, monitoring and search and rescue. This is the image that is often shown on our TVs and through the media, and the quadcopter is unfortunately pigeonholed with all the other UAVs.

But when one considers the recreational application of drones, we never imagine those small-scale, silver aeroplanes on a makeshift runway. Instead, we imagine RC quadcopters. The quadcopter is - almost exclusively - the drone for recreational use, So much so that they are suitable to be flown indoors. There are even major quadcopter drone racing tournaments that have transformed casual ownership of a quadcopter into a full-on sport. Retailers have moved to separate the two terms apart in order to make decisions easier for buyers. But the all-encompassing use of the drone remains in heavy use.

Size

Quadcopters themselves are sold in varying sizes - often to make them more consumer-friendly. Drones don’t have a standard in terms of dimensions, but the most of them are too large for recreational use. Accordingly, they are not subject to as many regulations as other drones. Still, there are guidelines that decide when and how the quadcopter can be deployed. One of the most important guidelines being that the quadcopter mustn’t fly above 400ft and are not permitted to be operated around airspace.