Can Drones Carry Things?

Can Drones Carry Things?

Drones like DJI Phantom 4 Pro, Wingcopter 178, and my favorite, Matternet M2, aren’t just meant for taking aerial shots, if you think so! You’ll be surprised to know their diverse range of capabilities, one of which is carrying things and transporting payloads. 

These commercial-level and multi-purpose drones have opened up a new realm of possibilities across sectors, such as logistics, healthcare, construction, and agriculture. Doing so not only helps reduce delivery time and enhance operations but overcome geographical barriers, too.

So the question can drones carry things? Answer: Yes, they can!

Continue reading as I explore this multifaceted world of drone transportation, drones carry capacity, and all other crucial information you must know. So, let’s get right into it.

What is Drone Payload Capacity? 

What is Drone Payload Capacity 

A drone’s payload capacity is the maximum weight it can carry in addition to its own weight. You can also call it ‘drone carrying capacity.’ It acts as a critical factor in drone cargo systems in determining their usefulness for cargo transportation. 

For example, Griff 300, a heavy-lift drone, has a payload capacity of 496 lb (225 kg). 

Recently, I came across a startup called Natilus, which successfully tested its 85 ft. full-scale commercial air cargo drone ‘Kona’ with a payload capacity worth a whopping 9,000 pounds (4.3 metric tons). You read that right! 

Read their press release here.

Factors Affecting a Drone’s Payload Capacity

Following are the main factors that affect a drone’s cargo-carrying capacity: 

Drone Size

Bigger drones have more payload capacity than smaller ones. Let’s compare DJI’s Matrice 350 RTK and the Mini 4 Pro

While the Mini Pro 4 measures just 298 × 37. × 101 mm (unfolded), Matice 350 RTK measures 810 × 670 × 430 mm. You can now tell which one of these two will be able to carry more load, keeping other factors aside. 

Battery Capacity + Weight

Flying with a heavier load or cargo, say an action camera like Zenmuse X7, means more energy consumption. As a result, the drone’s flight time gets reduced.

But this doesn’t imply increasing the number of batteries or installing a heavy battery pack, as a drone’s payload includes everything the drone carries, the batteries, too. 

Number of Propellers + Size

No doubt, propellers (or props) play a critical role in cargo drones. They generate upward thrust to counteract gravity and lift the drone off the ground. However, their number and size directly influence the unmanned aircraft’s payload capacity. 

Unlike what many people think, more and bigger props in cargo drones actually don’t work and can lead to serious injury if attempted.

Motor Strength 

Cheap motors are an all-time no, even for a regular recreational drone. They don’t provide the required flight experience and tend to falter as soon as you try to hang a camera on your drone. Instead, a powerful motor has all the answers for every payload type.   

Frame

Drones made from low-grade frames with poor structuring are more prone to give up than ones with a rigid structure and robust frame. Here, I would like to talk about the senseFly eBee X by AgEagle Aerial Systems

It’s a mapping and surveying drone with an extremely durable frame setup, enabling it to lift S.O.D.A., a high-end photogrammetry camera.  

Different Types of Drones for Carrying Cargo

Different Types of Drones for Carrying Cargo

There are numerous cargo-carrying drones, each tailored for a specific purpose and payload capacity. Below are a few of them:

Consumer Drones

Consumer drones are simple, lightweight, and low-capacity unmanned aircraft. I’ve mostly seen them deployed to carry sensors, small cameras, etc. For example, Autel Robotics EVO Lite+. The drones carry capacity is quite limited in these cases.

Industrial Drones

The next category of cargo drones is industrial drones, especially multi-rotor ones. They are big enough to transport heavier payloads from one location to another. Some examples are Freefly Alta X and DJI Agras MG-1

Fixed-Wing Cargo Drones

Have you seen cargo drones with an aircraft-like design? They are called fixed-wing cargo drones and can have a wingspan of up to 2 meters, 4 meters, 6 meters, etc.

What I like the most about these fixed-wing drones is their significant payload capacity. This makes them ideal for a wide range of commercial delivery applications.

A popular name is Wingcopter 198.

Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) Drones

VTOL drones have the functionality of both fixed-wing and multirotor industrial drones. That is, these heavy-duty cargo drones take off vertically like a regular copter and switch to an airplane-like horizontal flight. For instance, Joby Aviation S4 2.0

Custom-Built Cargo Drones

Sometimes, readily available cargo drones aren’t suitable for certain applications. In such scenarios, they are custom-built to meet the unique need(s) of the task. Take the example of Google Wing

Heavy-Lift Cargo Drones

Lastly, drones with the ability to carry cargo as heavy as 10 pounds are termed heavy-lift cargo drones. In fact, some drones can even carry more than 50% of their original weight as an additional payload. For example, JOUAV PH-25, Freefly Alta X, and Ehang 184.

Safety Measures for Secure Payload Transportation

Payload transportation via drones requires careful planning to prevent mid-air accidents or damage/unauthorized access to the cargo. 

Below are some safety measures that help ensure these:

Securely Attach the Payload 

Securely attach the payload to the drone using fasteners, harnesses, and dedicated cargo containers to prevent it from detaching mid-air. 

Avoid Imbalanced Load

Not just the environment but any load imbalance can also degrade the drone’s stability and control in flight. Hence, ensure the right balance between the weight and balance of the cargo. 

Conduct a Thorough Pre-Flight Checklist

A thorough pre-flight or safety checklist is also highly recommended. It should include inspecting the weather conditions, securing the necessary documents, checking the drone’s health, examining the payload attachment, and verifying cargo weight, at the bare minimum. 

Use a Reliable Drop Mechanism 

Does the cargo need to be dropped from a certain height? If so, this calls for a reliable drop mechanism to release it with the utmost precision as and where required. 

Continuously Monitor the Cargo

As a thumb rule, equip the drone with sensors or portable cameras to continuously monitor the cargo and detect issues, if any.  

Avoid Poor Weather for Flying

Don’t fly in poor weather that could result in the cargo drone losing control or stability. Strong winds, snowstorms, fog, and rain are red flags to watch out for. 

Don’t Enter No-Fly Zones

Avoid flying into no-fly or restricted zones, such as airports, military bases, or crowded urban areas. For this purpose, geo-fencing and GPS are the best technologies.  

Top 3 Real-World Examples of Drone Carrying Things

Let’s now explore three amazing real-world examples of drones carrying things. 

Amazon Prime Air: Revolutionizing Delivery

Amazon Prime Air Revolutionizing Delivery

Imagine your Amazon parcel dropping from 12 feet in the air. Sounds cool, isn’t it? That’s what Amazon Prime Air is all about. 

It’s the company’s ambitious initiative to transform how packages are delivered using drone technology. Launched in 2022, this service offers rapid, efficient, and environmental-friendly deliveries of orders in less than an hour. 

Currently, Amazon Prime Air drone-based delivery is available in two locations in the U.S.: College Station, Texas, and Lockeford, California, through the custom-built MK27-2 drone. 

However, Amazon plans to introduce another makeshift UAV into service, the MK30. Unlike its predecessor, MK30 is equipped with increased range, better temperature tolerance, safety-critical features, and the capability to fly in light rain.

Note: Refer to this page for all drone delivery FAQs. 

Matternet M2: Medical Drone Deliveries in Remote Areas

Matternet M2 Medical Drone Deliveries in Remote Areas

The next real-world example of a drone carrying things is Matternet M2

It’s the world’s first delivery drone to be issued a Type Certificate by the FAA. Ideally, M2 is a specialized drone to deliver medical supplies in inaccessible areas, thanks to its 4.4 pounds payload capacity and long range of up to 12.4 miles. 

In addition, the drone is also a suitable pick for eCommerce and logistics organizations.  

Lockheed Martin Indago 3: For Disaster Relief Efforts

Lockheed Martin Indago 3: For Disaster Relief Efforts

Lockheed Martin Indago 3 is the Swiss Army’s reliable companion for disaster relief efforts. It operates quietly, even from a relatively low altitude, and provides high-fidelity sensor imagery. 

The best part? 

Indago 3 is very easy to operate, requiring minimal training for soldiers to deploy it in missions. Due to this, it becomes extremely easy to collect information from the disaster site, execute search and rescue operations, provide relief materials, and assess damage. 

Coming to the numbers, Indago 3 has a maximum flight time of up to 50 minutes, a dashing cruise speed of 25 Knots, and an operating range of 10 kilometers. Besides, the drone can withstand temperatures as low as 30°F below zero and as high as 120°F.  

These are just three examples to give you an idea of what drones are capable of. There is a lot more to explore! 

Challenges and Limitations of Drones That Can Carry Things

Drones that carry things face the following challenges and limitations: 

Limited Payload Capacity 

The biggest challenge every cargo drone confronts is limited payload capacity. Take the example of DJI Mini 2. It’s a top-selling personal drone designed for aerial photography and videography. Being a compact-sized drone, its payload capacity is merely 0.53 pounds. 

Thus, all it can carry is its own camera and gimbal. Nothing else! 

Battery Life

Similar to the payload capacity, drones’ limited battery life poses the next big challenge. Generally, an unmanned aircraft comes with a battery that lasts for around 20 to 30 minutes. 

Note: Advanced cargo drones like Griff 300 can stay in the air for up to 45 minutes. 

If I take the above example of the DJI Mini 2, its battery lasts 31 minutes (my testing found it slightly lower, though). With such an average battery capacity, cargo drones can’t cover long distances. 

Weather 

Drones that carry things need clear skies to maintain their straight path line and remain stable. Strong winds, rain, or snow, however, make things difficult for them. This results in the cargo drones losing control or even crashing

Regulatory Restrictions 

Drones carrying things must comply with strict airspace regulations, such as altitude limits, line-of-sight requirements, no-fly zones, etc. All these limit the operational capabilities of cargo drones. 

Safety Concerns

Safety concerns are paramount with cargo drones. Imagine an object falling off the UAV and hitting you. Painful, right? This makes safety features necessary to prevent their content from falling over, causing harm or damage. 

Noise Pollution 

Lastly, cargo (or even ordinary) drones are considered a major source of noise pollution. And it’s true to some extent. Let me explain.

They produce a high-pitched or humming sound of 70dB to 80 dB due to their propellers’ rapid spinning. In other words, drones sound like your regular home vacuum cleaner or a busy road. 

Due to this noise, their use is often criticized in or around residential areas.  

Conclusion

In conclusion, the ability of drones to carry things varies with their size, design, and payload capacity. 

While consumer drones are suitable for transporting lightweight items, such as cameras or small packages, their industrial peers are humongous enough to airlift medical supplies, machinery, and even us!

Nonetheless, these cargo drones face challenges like limited battery life, stability, and adverse weather, impacting their operation.  

Let’s keep our fingers crossed and hope for answers to these limitations as the technology shapes up further. Have you ever used your drone (if it’s capable) to carry things? If yes, for what? Let me know. 

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Q: Can Drones Carry Objects?

A: Drones can carry things—for example, cameras, Amazon packages, medical supplies, first aid, and everything you can think of. 

Q: How Much Weight Can Drones Lift?

A: There’s no direct answer to how much weight a drone can lift since this depends on its size, type, number of rotors, power of the motors, and battery capacity. I own a DJI Mini 2, and its payload capacity is around 0.53 pounds. 

My other drone, Yuneec Tornado H920, which I mostly take out for shooting photos and videos, can lift 6 pounds. One of my friends is a drone pilot, and he operates the heavy lifter OnyxStar HYDRA-12, with a payload capacity of 26.5 pounds. 

Q: What Are Some Drones That Can Carry Things? 

A: Some popular drones that can carry things and operate smoothly are DJI Inspire 2, DJI Mavic Pro, DJI Tello, and DJI Mini SE

Author
Diptesh Das

Diptesh Das is your friendly ‘content maniac’ and drone enthusiastic! Being passionate about content writing. He is a firm believer of the power of words and thereby ended up leveraging them to create an impact by sharing his drone knowledge and experiences.

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