News — Engineering


Drones for Commercial Use 0

Drones for Commercial Use

Drones were first used by the military to perform jobs too dangerous or difficult for manned aircraft. Drones have an increasing number of uses ranging from performing military operations to inspecting pipelines to locating valuable resources. They are also very versatile depending on their needed function: they come in varying sizes, can handle various loads (lethal and non-lethal), and can be controlled remotely or fly autonomously. Due to risky environments that drones are frequently sent into, they are often engineered to be expendable—lightweight and cost-efficient—while still being durable and high-tech enough to perform these difficult operations. Drones can also help with animal tracking, surveillance, reconnaissance, and news in dangerous areas.


Perhaps because of their versatility and power, drones have become something of a controversial topic. What could at one point put out a devastating forest fire could, at another point, also harm a lot of people. One of the concerns about drones revolves around their growing commercial uses.


Up until this year, drones were only approved to be used for recreational purposes. Only just recently they have been approved for commercial uses—and with specific restrictions. But the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) is still figuring out the final rules.


So what constitutes “commercial use”? This is a question that seems easily answered but has caused a bunch of confusion. It would seem that you just can’t use your drone to make money. This might include even selling photos you’ve taken with your drone. However, until the FAA finishes making the solid rules, the parameters for commercial use are still going to be a bit fuzzy.


Let’s get into some of the regulations already in place.


First of all, to fly a drone commercially, you need a pilot’s license. You can’t fly directly above anyone’s head or within 5 miles of an airport. The drone has to weigh less than 55 pounds and has to fly under 500 feet, and you have to make sure to keep it within your line of sight. These rules make a lot of sense and, actually, they’re pretty much the same suggestions for flying a drone for recreation. The only difference is you are suggested to only fly below 400 feet rather than 500. However, the FAA doesn’t regulate recreational use as much.


So which drones are generally being used commercially now? Really, this depends on the preference of the company on which drones they use. I’ve seen a few DJI drones used commercially—such as the Inspire 1 and Phantom 2—though I’m sure there are other brands and types that are also preferred. Mostly, these commercial drones are going to be the same drones you can get yourself from any dealer. It’s just what you’re getting out of your drone that makes the difference.

Right now the rules are being updated, and it can be difficult to get the approval to fly a drone commercially. But, for better or worse, I think the regulations will eventually catch up to the advancing technology. Maybe soon drones will be delivering packages to your doorstep!


Drones for Sale at Costco 2

Drones for Sale at Costco

I’m a huge fan of Costco for a number of reasons. But, unfortunately, it’s hard to find drones on the Costco site. After searching around for a while, I found some remote-controlled helicopters under the “toys” category but no drones. Some further Google searching led me to find a promotional video of the Parrot AR drone 2.0 on Costco’s site (which is one of the most popular drones on the market), but you can’t actually buy the Parrot. Eventually I was forced to conclude that I just wasn’t going to find any drones there.

Costco does have different websites for different countries so you may be able to find more options for drones on other countries’ sites. If you go to the Canadian Costco website for example, you will find a Swann Maxi Quad Remote Control Starship for sale. It’s a simple quadcopter that gets in about 7 minutes of flight time and it’s only about $55. But even with these sites, your drone shopping is going to be limited.

This is partly because Costco depends mostly on its store locations. Since products vary from store to store, there’s a good chance that something available in one store is not stocked in another. Basically, one of the best ways to find out if Costco is selling a drone that you might want is to browse around in your local Costco. Or, you can contact them and ask about any drones they are currently selling or will be selling in the future.

The bad thing about not being able to search for drones for sale online is that you can’t compare one drone against another. You can’t do research about which one would be the best fit for you. Even if you do find a drone for sale in one of their warehouses, you probably won’t have much of a selection. You may find a great drone for a great price and if you’re feeling impulsive—go for it! Otherwise, you might want to search somewhere else for a drone.

But don’t let me dissuade you from buying a drone from Costco. If you do find a drone you like at Costco, you should feel good about getting it. Costco’s prices are super low compared to other places, and it’s really one of the best places to get a good deal. Plus, they have great return policies. Although they don’t have a lot of information about drones on their site, most other electronics can be returned within 90 days of your purchase. They also have free technical support for a lot of electronics. Again, this probably doesn’t apply to drones, but, if you do buy one from them, I would definitely ask about their return policy and any technical support available. I’ve always been impressed with Costco’s customer service and I’m not alone. I think they would be very helpful with any drone that you buy.

Overall, Costco really isn’t the best place to find drones for sale. However, I know they do have drones every once in a while. If you find yourself shopping at Costco in the near future, go ahead and see if they have any drones in stock.

Drone Cameras 0

Drone Cameras


The word “drone” is a pretty broad term. There are many different types of drones that can do many different things. For starters, some drones are used for farming, firefighting, or military purposes. More recently, commercial drones have come on the scene to be used for recreation and photography. We’re going to look closely at the different cameras used exclusively with drones. The cameras in commercial drones are going to be a bit different from other drone cameras, mostly in the way of sensors and filters, but otherwise the cameras are pretty much the same.


Some commercial drones have a camera built in, or they come with a camera that is ready to attach. Others have a place to attach a camera or are at least capable of carrying a camera’s weight, but you actually have to get the camera separately. The drones with a camera already built in are, understandably, going to be more expensive. But with these you may actually be saving money since you don’t have to pay for a camera on top of the drone price. Typically, these cameras are made specifically for that model of drone and are going to operate the best with it. Some examples are the Walkera Tali H500, the Hubsan X4, and the DJI Phantom 2 Vision+.


The cameras that come with the drones are going to vary from drone to drone. They’re going to have different features and different specs. So with these, make sure you do your research to ensure you are getting a good camera as well as a good drone. I’ve found that that the DJI camera drones are top quality in every aspect, but if these are out of your price range, there are other competitive options: such as the Parrot AR drone 2.0 and the Blade 350 QX2 AP.


Drones that do not come with a camera are going to be cheaper initially but may actually cost you more money once you buy the camera in addition to the drone. With these drones, you need to think about which camera is going to be the best fit for you and your drone. Many people swear by the GoPro cameras, so this is a good place to start. The standard choice is the GoPro Hero3 Black but GoPro has now come out with a Hero4 series that offers you amazing camera quality. They’re expensive but totally worth it if you’re looking for a camera to buy for your drone.


Here’s a ball-park range of specs you should look for in a drone camera: a resolution of about 1080p 30 fps or better; weight of about 80g or less; and a battery time of at least 80 min. Along with all of this, of course, you want the camera with the best price. Like I’ve already said, the GoPro Hero4 Black is great and GoPro is always a top choice for drones. But, if you’re looking for something cheaper, you might want to look into the Sony AS100V.

Drones at Brookstone 0

Drones at Brookstone

I very recently discovered Brookstone. Brookstone is a company that specializes in selling objects that aren’t generally sold by other retailers. Whenever I fly across the U.S. (which is quite frequently), I always peruse the Brookstone catalogue. A lot of the products I see there make me laugh, but then I also end up thinking wow, that’s kind of genius. Why don’t other stores sell this stuff? Their unique, yet very functional, products are what keep people coming back for more.


If you’re like me, flying on a plane looking at a Brookstone catalogue, you’ll also occasionally look out the window and wish that you could actually fly. Don’t try to say you haven’t. You’ll then look back at the catalogue to see a beautiful camera drone, and it’s like a personalized message is being sent to you: yes, you can fulfill your dream of flight.


Sure, with a drone you won’t be the one in the air but you can control every twist and turn of the drone and that’s pretty much the next best thing. With companies like Brookstone, it’s super easy to buy yourself a drone and take to the air.


With Brookstone, there are several ways that you can order. You can give them a call to set an order up; you can easily search through drones on their site and order online; or you can even go to a Brookstone store in person. Their stores are located mostly in malls and airports in the west, with the most around San Francisco, Los Angeles, and San Diego. You can search on their site for the store closest to you.


As far as drone selection goes, Brookstone has very few drones available. They offer a few different types of Parrot drones, the DJI Phantom2, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision, and just a couple of drones from other companies. Despite their small selection, these drones are pretty high quality, and you have the option of purchasing a replacement plan or service plan on select drones. There are service plans for 2 or 3 years and replacement plans for 1 or 2 years. With these plans, you will be assured that any unexpected damages will be repaired or the drone will be replaced.


When searching reviews of Brookstone, I found that while many customers had positive things to say and would recommend their friends check out Brookstone, there were also many complaints about the return service and delivery time.

As far as price goes, Brookstone tends to be a bit pricier with most of their items. With drones, however, Brookstone’s prices are pretty comparable to everywhere else—though they do sell the DJI Phantom 2 Vision for hundreds of dollars more than most other places sell it for. So, while Brookstone is a great place to shop for hard-to-find items, it may not be your best option for shopping for drones. You may want to browse at Amazon or Best Buy first before going to Brookstone. But, if you’ve already tried a lot of the other drone retailers and want to try something new, go ahead and give Brookstone a try.

Drones at Walmart 0

Drones at Walmart

I’m always amazed by what you can buy at Walmart: cereal, water shoes, a single egg holder, gateway to Narnia . . . it’s all there. So it’s no surprise that Walmart also sells drones.


Just a few of the brands it sells are Walkera, Parrot, Atomik RC, and AEE Technology. Walmart sells quite a few higher-quality camera drones, but it definitely has a lot more safe recreational drones that even kids can use.


Like other companies’ sites, Walmart has a bar on the left-hand side of the page that will let you narrow down your search to find the perfect drone. You can select a bunch of different preferences like what department you want to search in. Or you can search by customer review, price, brand, color, etc. You can also view your search results in whatever order is most helpful—like cheapest to most expensive.


The unfortunate thing I’ve found when searching for drones on Walmart’s site is that the search results will give you a wide range of things that have nothing to do with the drone you’re searching for. For example, I searched for the DJI Inspire 1, and while the Inspire was at the top of the search list, the next item was a box of markers, the next was cat food, and it only got more random from there. Maybe markers and cat food have more to do with a DJI camera drone than what first meets the eye, but I feel like the Walmart online search is just not super helpful.


Walmart does offer competitive prices, and if you find that somewhere else offers the same drone for a lower price, but you still want to buy from Walmart, Walmart will price match.


Below each drone, you will find a description and a short list of specs. Some specs lists are more extensive and helpful than others. The site also lists other items that are similar so if you find one drone that has some of the thing you want but isn’t exactly perfect, you can view a similar drone and see if it fits all your preferences.


There is also a question and answer spot at the bottom of each item’s page. Here you and other customers can ask questions relating to each specific drone like “where can I get a spare battery?” Mostly, these questions are answered by fellow customers rather than by Walmart employees so there’s no guarantee you’ll get a quick answer, but it can be super helpful to see what questions other customers have had.

Also, you can buy a bunch of drone accessories from Walmart. For some accessories, you may need to look around at other places because Walmart may not carry everything you could need. But, there are plenty of replacement parts and attachable cameras available.


You do have to be aware that Walmart won’t help much in how to actually operate your drone. And for repairs you may have to contact the manufacturer or at least a company that specializes in drone repairs. Besides this, Walmart’s great prices and standard return policies make it a great option for buying drones.