Every day, technology is morphing into new territories, and air surveillance is more common than ever. Surveillance drones were primarily used by the military and police. In recent years, such technology is transitioning into business and homes. So, let’s hear what the experts have to say.
Which are the best surveillance drones?
There are many practical uses for a drone. However, it can get tricky investing in one because of the many models available in the market. Picking one is often a challenge, and so here are some of the best drones for surveillance purposes.
DJI Phantom 3 Pro
This is the latest flagship from the well-known and respected drone manufacturer. Its four rotors are very powerful, ensuring a superior level of stability. Despite being light in weight, it is robust and durable, all thanks to the carbon fiber hard shell material used to make it. It can also work adeptly in all manner of environments.
You can also watch live video from the Phantom 3, with the use of first person view (FPV) goggles or your smartphone. With such capabilities, you can enlarge the range of view while surveying. The drone also has GPS navigation, which assists in automatic takeoff and landing. Its standout feature is the integrated array of sensors, which help it avoid obstacles on the flight path. More features include:
- 23 minutes of flight time
- speeds of up to 58 km/h (36mph)
- Operation range up to 1.2 miles
- Maximum flying altitude of 3.8 miles
- 4K Ultrahigh definition camera
- Hard-shell pack included in the purchase
- The biggest cons for buying this drone are its pros. Some of its outstanding features are also its stumbling block because it goes beyond the limits set for what a drone can do. Most jurisdictions see it as too powerful. Therefore, you may not be allowed to own one in your locality or may need a license to use it.
Yuneec Typhoon Q500
This quad-copter can take off right out of the box. It’s tagged as an RTF drone, short for ready to fly. It has one of the highest video quality recording capabilities for a built-in camera, at up to 120 fps. The camera is so good that you can use the drone as a handheld recorder, by attaching the mount provided.
The radio controller also incorporates a touchscreen interface, built on the Android operating system. This feature means you also get updates to the software much quickly and have more customization options. You can adjust the telemetry, view footage, and get flight data without the need for a mobile application. Additionally, you can connect FPV goggles for spectacular views or your smartphone to relay images and input controls. The camera is suitably positioned for you to see in a first-person view and can rotate 360 degrees horizontally. More features include:
- Carry case included
- 25 minutes of flight time
- Ships with extra battery’s
- 800 meters operating range
- 29 km/h (18 mph) top speed
- The brand name might not excite avid pilots. There is a good reason for this in that lesser-known brands usually disappoint when it comes to drones.
Parrot AR Drone 2.0
Parrot offers this drone in three classic camouflage styles, inspired by the desert, rain forest, and arctic landscapes. With respect to the surrounding areas, you can take your surveillance discreetness a notch higher by choosing the right aura. Even the front two propellers are colored according to the profile you select.
This drone creates a Wi-Fi hot spot, whereby you can tether your Android or iOS smartphone to control it. The 720p camera relays high-quality images, and you can record it all to your smartphone in real-time. You can choose Director Mode, and chart the path you want your drone to take on the phone’s application. Another standout capability is absolute control piloting mode. With this feature, you can tilt your phone, plunging the drone to set trajectory. Other features include:
- Absolute control piloting mode
- Director mode
- Multiple sensors for stability
- Not affected by weather
- 420 grams in weight
- Speeds of up to 40 km/h (25 mph)
- The biggest issue with the AR drone is its small battery. At only 1000mAh, it can only fly for a maximum of 12 minutes on a single charge.
Traxxas Aton Plus
The lack of a native camera makes the Aton Plus stand out compared to many others in this list. Nevertheless, the 2-axis gimbal provides fantastic stability, absorbing all movements from an attached camera. As a result, the video captured is crisp and clean. In sports mode, this drone can reach speeds above 50 mph, which is worthwhile if you’re a speed freak. You can also perform many exciting maneuvers, at lightning speeds.
The controller feels solid and offers you the right controls on your fingertips. The smooth non-skid rubber surfaces on the keys enhance your comfort as you fly.
- 20 minutes of flight time
- 770 grams in weight
- Speeds of up to 80 km/h (50 mph)
- Exquisite controller
- Compatible with many action cameras
- The only downside to this drone is its lack of a native camera. However, you can still attach compatible ones like the Go-pro or other action cameras. Once connected, you can still view images.
Cheer son cxhobby CX-20
The CX-20 is versatile and highly efficient and comes at an unbeatable price for what is on offer. It combines distinct features such as strength, durability, and extended flight duration, making it an excellent surveillance drone. Its design gives it excellent stability in unforgiving weather conditions. It has GPS functionality to get back in range or a selected point when the battery is running low. This drone is also fitted with LED lights to aid in orientation when flying. Other features include:
- 15 minutes of surveillance time
- 30 km/h (18 mph) maximum speed
- 1.5 kms operating range
- MX autopilot system
- IOC function
- Low voltage protection
- Just like the Aton Plus, this drone lacks a camera. Nevertheless, it’s still compatible to many external cameras from the main body, and footage captured is quite stable, thanks to the two-axis gimbal.
Walkera QR X350 Pro
Many say the Walkera is the epitome of what a surveillance drone should be like. It has a solid build, aerodynamic, and versatile in maneuverability, making it highly sought after. Its powerful 3500-mAh battery gives you a flight time of up to 25 minutes on a single charge. Its enhanced altitude sensors use GPS to stabilize and hold the position you want the drone to hover in, even when windy.
- Onboard low voltage warning
- Sturdy build and easy maintenance
- Manual and novice modes
- brush-less camera gimbal
- Speeds of up to 72 km/h (45 mph)
- The downside of this drone is its lack of an internal camera. Additionally, it’s only compatible to a select few cameras in the market.
Frequently Asked Questions
How much do surveillance drones cost?
Typically, toy and beginner drones start from ranges of $20 to $250. Drones with inbuilt cameras hover around $300 onwards. Professional drone users often get the best that money can buy, which means a long flight time and the best image quality. A drone in the range of $1000 usually suffices to most needs.
You can’t get a surveillance drone like the MQ-1 predator that launches missiles, or the BAMS-D aircraft that was shot down by Iran, causing lots of tensions for obvious reasons. These two types cost upwards of $100 million and are understandably not available to the public. Nevertheless, they still fall into the category of surveillance drones.
What does drone surveillance mean?
Drone surveillance is the act of capturing video or still images through an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The data obtained ranges from set targets like individuals, environments, or groups. You can gather information from a distance at varying altitudes.
The drone’s size, and ability to withstand harsh environments means photographers can access in first person view (FPV) areas that would be difficult to get to. These flying robots have made many leaps and bounds in recent years. Some have a combination of face recognition, computer vision, object identification, and tracking technologies. The latter is commonly used in autonomously following subjects and film them move in tandem.
What can you do with a surveillance UAV?
You can do so many things with the right UAV. You can survey large events, concerts, sports, or festivals. You can check the state of traffic ahead of you. Nature enthusiasts and researchers can capture data from hard to reach areas, such as caves. Law enforcement agencies can scan for illegal activities like in a drug sting or anti-terror operations, and use information captured for evidence. Police can use a drone to search for missing persons because of the machine’s broad scope.
Geologists can monitor flooding and other forces of nature from a safe distance. Military weaponizes their surveillance drone, and president Obama was a big fan of these robots that don’t put American lives at risk. Engineers can monitor critical infrastructure. Marine engineers can survey maritime traffic. Search and rescue teams often deploy drones to survey disaster situations, to gauge what the best approach is. Government agencies and businesses can gather intelligence from their counterparts.
Can a drone be tracked?
Yes, radar can detect a drone if it’s designed to do so. However, some drones even have designs to evade known radar systems, making it detectable in exceptional circumstances. However, if you own the drone and lose connection to it, you will have to retrieve it on your own. Drones don’t have devices to ping their exact location when they are not connected to the controller.
What are the regulations for owning a surveillance drone?
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has a set of written drone regulations. In most cases, if the UAV is under 1,200 ounces in weight, special permits are usually foregone. Besides, having a drone going beyond that size is a reach for most people. Other regulations set by the FAA are barring flight within two miles of an airport and above 400 ft.
In the US, federal laws are still being formulated concerning drone-related security and privacy rights of the citizens. Most jurisdictions rely on state-level rules on different aspects when it comes to pilots breaking the law. For this reason, some states have entirely banned all aerial photography of private property.
There are a lot of gray areas in regards to privacy, so it would be in your best interest to get the most information that you can from your local jurisdiction. The situation is ambiguous because legislation is still far behind as drones continue to increase in their popularity. It is vital that you note the privacy of others, and be mindful of how you use the drone.
Do drones have GPS tracking?
Beginner drones usually don’t have GPS tracking. Advanced users find GPS capabilities a must-have in their drone of choice. With this functionality, they can navigate and control the UAV in many ways. You can hold the drone’s position, return to home automatically, fly autonomously, all thanks to GPS.
With the help of signals from orbiting satellites, a radio receiver determines the position, time, and speed. GPS is short for global positioning systems. Now drones even us A GPS, or advanced GPS to increase the accuracy of positioning from within meters to centimeters, as seen in smartphones of today.
What to look for in a surveillance drone
Today’s drones typically have a camera to capture videos and take photographs. There are numerous applications for a drone, such as radio jamming, radar detection, heat sensing, and various surveillance uses explained earlier.
Drones have found a place in media because of their ability to capture captivating videos and stills for news. Video surveillance can deter criminal activity. UAVs save many lives during emergencies and help reduce logistical costs in diverse scenarios. Quad-copters can maneuver better than airplanes and helicopters. Additionally, they can lift more loads comparatively, and that’s why most drones are in this style. Because of their versatility in usage, there are subtle differences in drones that make one drone better than another does to somebody. Below are other factors to look at when purchasing one.
A good camera is the most important aspect of a surveillance drone. After all, you won’t be surveying anything if the images you get are not good enough. For clear images, go for a camera with a resolution of 720P at the very least. This resolution will give you high-quality photos, which you can then edit to your liking, zooming in without losing too much detail.
A drone’s ability to stay airborne is a critical factor. A larger battery does not necessarily mean a more extended flight on a full charge. The reason for this is that with a large battery, the weight increases so the drone will use more power to carry the load. For this reason, it’s essential to find a manufacturer who has gotten the right balance between the two characteristics.
You need to plan in terms of what you want to capture. Consider the time you need for a particular shot because some moments only happen once. Always ensure the battery has enough juice to avoid losing it mid flight. It’s advisable to buy more batteries for lengthier flight time.
For surveillance purposes, the further you are from the target object, the better. It is important to note that most drones can be enhanced in terms of range by adding accessories to lengthen the transmission signal from the controller. Choose a drone with a scope you believe will be adequate for your needs.
For quality images, you need a stable camera. For a drone, you don’t have a direct say in how firm you want the camera to be, because the machine is out of range. Nevertheless, some technologies help lessen the impact of winds on the drone. Some drones have anti weather features and sensors to ensure your images are not distorted to a high degree. Some features make the drone fly in a straight path to counter temperament weather.
The drones in this list are available to ordinary citizens from ages 13 and up. Register with the FAA Drone Registration, at a small fee and get your license to fly. Those in other countries outside of the US can check with local authorities, so as not to border on the wrong side of the law when flying one.