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How Drones Work

        Science | Modern

Drones in Your Homes
Drones are used in agriculture all the time. This drone is sweeping a winery’s grapes so the winemaker can assess the maturity of the fruit.
Drones are used in agriculture all the time. This drone is sweeping a winery’s grapes so the winemaker can assess the maturity of the fruit.
© JEAN PIERRE MULLER/AFP/Getty Images

In many places, including the U.S., civilian and commercial drone use is severely restricted by aviation administration regulations, primarily in the name of safety. That does not, however, stop thousands of people from using drones for a plethora of purposes, including videography, sheep herding, product delivery and crop surveying.

If you perform a quick search through your favorite online megastore you'll see that dozens of drones are available. Some are less than $100. Other costs thousands. There are two broad drone categories: fixed wing and rotary. Each type has its strengths and weaknesses.

Fixed-wing drones can be hand-launched, but often they require a runway or even an unwieldy catapult. But they're generally faster and can fly much longer than their rotary brethren.

One option is the eBee senseFly, a fixed-wing drone designed specifically for mapping purposes. Toss it into the air and it follows a preprogrammed route, snapping high-resolution images that are then integrated into maps and 3-D models. It can cover more than 4 square miles (10.4 square kilometers) on a single flight. Farmers are the primary customers, as they can use the drone to optimize their agricultural practices and increase their yields. The eBee retails for more than $10,000.

The Agribotix Hornet LR is another fixed-wing drone, and like the eBee, it's intended largely for agricultural use. It has a 6.4-foot (2-meter) wingspan and a cruising speed of more than 30 miles (48 kilometers) per hour. It can fly for nearly an hour and a half before it must descend for recharging. Rather than only offering purchase options, Agribotix leases units to customers for less than $2,000.

Fixed-wing drones are just a teensy sliver of the commercial and hobbyist drone market.