Drone vs Quadcopter: What Are the Differences?

Most people, including me, use the terms drones and quadcopters interchangeably, but they aren’t the same.

They’re unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with varying shapes, sizes, purposes, designs, and prices, among other aspects. So, drone vs quadcopter, what are the differences?

The main difference between drones and quadcopters is in their design.

A quadcopter features strictly four motors (hence the “quad” prefix”). Some could have more motors, but most maintain a similar X or H shape.

Drones come in different shapes, types, and differing flight characteristics.

Read on as we examine how drones differ from quadcopters. We will examine these gadgets’ physical and functional features to help you make your ideal choice.

But before we compare them, let’s define what they are.

What Is a Drone?

A drone is a remotely controlled unmanned aircraft or Aerial Vehicle that flies autonomously with the support of onboard computers, which also places it in the robot category.

Drones come in various sizes and shapes and are equipped with varying propulsion systems.

Any autonomously traveling vehicle can be a drone. The UAVs vary from large, sophisticated military drones to small consumer-grade devices.

What Is a Quadcopter?

A quadcopter is a specific drone type propelled by four (quad) rotors. These types of drones use rotors to fly, and they’re strategically positioned in the device’s four corners to enhance flying balance.

They’re responsible for control and vertical lift. Each rotor has a propeller and a motor.

Quadcopters fall under the general drone category, but not all drones can be considered quadcopters.

Drone vs Quadcopter: What Are the Differences?

The differences between drones and quadcopters lie in the following metrics:

  • Number of Motors
  • Durability
  • Portability
  • Purpose
  • Shape
  • Prices
  • Size
  • Versatility

Number of Motors

The number of motors affects various features in an aircraft. Drones have 1-18 motors, while quadcopters use four motors.

The wide range of drone motors is due to their types and purpose, while quadcopters are one category.

A perfect example is the DJI Phantom 4 (quadcopter), which has four motors. Most of the drones we use today, such as the Mavics, Yuneecs, Autels, Parrot, Skydio, etc., are quadcopters since they have four rotors. 

In the broader category of drones, we have single-rotor drones (helicopters), fixed-wing drones that often have one motor, and hybrid or VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drones that combine motors and wings.

The Ebee drone series is a good example of a fixed-wing drone, while the Wingtra drone series is a good example of a hybrid drone.

Durability

Drones are more durable than quadcopters. The former mostly have resistant fiber-reinforced plastic and composite frames that are sturdy enough to support payload and weight.

Quadcopters may be made of the same materials but may not be as durable or handle the same impact as other types of drones.

An aircraft’s durability also comes from its design features. Larger drones are designed to have modular designs for portability and durability.

They are also designed to protect the various components that they carry. Quadcopters are smaller and often easily portable, but this smaller design makes them less durable.

And lastly, most drones, especially those used for commercial use, will be designed to have some level of water and weather resistance.

Most quadcopters can’t withstand water or harsh weather, especially those designed for recreational or indoor use.

Portability

One significant factor to consider when buying an aircraft is portability. Drones are portable, as most of them have foldable designs.

Some quadcopters are also portable due to their smaller size and lighter weight. A good example is the foldable Mavic, Air, and Mini DJI drone series.

Huge quadcopters like the Agras series are also foldable for easy storage and portability.

However, as mentioned earlier, drones come in varying types and sizes, and some may be lighter and more portable than a quadcopter.

For instance, the Ebee X, a professional-grade surveying drone, weighs only 1.6 Kg. It can be disassembled for storage and easily assembled in the field for takeoff.

Purpose and Versatility

Drones, including quadcopters, are versatile and have found uses in various industries, including cinematography, military, search and rescue, law enforcement, agriculture, surveying and mapping, and delivery.

For instance, Zipline uses fixed-wing drones to deliver medicine in rural areas, Wing uses a VTOL, and DJI recently released what could be called a quadcopter, the Flycart 30, that can be used for short-distance delivery.

The military is known for using all types of drones. Quadcopters are more accessible and one of the most versatile categories and fit in most industries.

But if they don’t offer what one is looking for, you can look into the broader drone category for a type that will suit your needs.

Payload

Drones, including quadcopters, can be designed to carry huge payloads.

The payload capacity is not inherently determined by the type but by motor power, frame design, battery power, etc.

Quadcopters like the DjiM300 are known for carrying a wide range of payloads. The DJI Agras drones also have a quadcopter design and can carry up to 50 kg of weight.

Shape

Quadcopters often have an ‘X’ or ‘H’ Design, while drones’ shapes vary. Some look like helicopters, while others look like your typical manned airplane. An aircraft’s purpose primarily determines its shape.

Prices

Both drones and quadcopters can be cheap or expensive. The type, features, and purpose determine the price.

All kinds of drones, including quadcopters, have an inexpensive, budget-friendly, and high-end version.

For instance, there are quadcopters like the DJI Mini that costs less than $500, or the Ryze Tello that costs $100, and the Inspire 3 that costs upwards of $10,000.

Size

There are different drone sizes, ranging from palm to car sizes. Quadcopters are generally smaller than most drones, as they need to be lighter for more maneuverability and portability.

As mentioned earlier, most consumer-grade drones we use today are quadcopters, and almost all are easy to carry around.

I have encountered fixed-wing drones that needed a truck to move them around.

Conclusion

While drones and quadcopters are similar in some ways, they differ in design, applications, and capabilities.

Quadcopters are one category, and they can be small, large, simple, or sophisticated, depending on what they are designed for.

Drones encompass several types, each with its characteristics. Both drones and quadcopters can be useful in industries like filming, agriculture, and security.

You just have to study each type and choose one that suits your needs.

FAQ

While quadcopters are one type of drone, they are often called drones since that’s what most people are familiar with.

 

Drones are popular thanks to quadcopters and when most people are talking about drones, they will use an image of a quadcopter.

Multirotor drones or drones with four rotors fall under the quadcopter category. They all often have an X or H shape.

There are four main types of drones;

  • Mutlirotor (Quadcvopters) – These often have 4 rotors.
  • Fixed-wing drones – Often have one or more rotors and wings.
  • Single-rotor drones – These feature one rotor for propulsion.
  • Hybrid (VTOL) – These combine wings and rotors for propulsion.

Both fixed-wings and quadcopters have their advantages and disadvantages, and it all depends on your needs.

Quadcopters are often cheaper, easier to launch, and easier to use but have limited flight time.

Fixed-wing drones last longer in flight and can come with the same payloads, if not better, as the quadcopter, but they are also expensive.

For areas where you don’t have to cover much land, quadcopters are great, but if you want to cover much ground in a day, fixed-wings are the best.

Author
Peter Karanja

Peter is a licensed drone pilot and drone fanatic. He owns a DJI Air 2S that he uses to shoot videos for fun, enjoyment and for clients.

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