Debunking the Mystery: Drone VS UAV

June 03, 2021 6 min read

best drone for 2021

The technological revolution has blessed us with thousands of inventions that have made our lives easier. One such notable invention is that of drones and UAVs, often used synonymously. These winged devices are very powerful in terms of performance and usability. They can perform complex tasks, such as capturing difficult movie shots, correcting building constructions, etc.

All of us must welcome this potentially life-changing machine into our lives with open arms. But, unfortunately, many of us aren't informed on this subject.

Let's change that to demystify and understand their differences in detail. But, first, let's know what each of these terms means.

What is Drone?

A drone is a remote-controlled aerial device that can be employed for various purposes, ranging from filming movie scenes to transporting products from one place to another. A drone can be as light as 250 grams or as heavy as 150 kilos. Shocking, right?

Most commercial drones available for consumers weigh a few kilos at most. Drones heavier than a few kilos usually have military applications, as they have to be loaded with weapons or liquid fuels to maximize their capabilities.

A majority of drone manufacturers have adopted a quadcopter design for their devices, as it grants us more freedom to propel the drone in different directions. In addition, the usefulness and simplicity of this device have made it very popular with people engaged in creative fields like filmmaking and photography.

For example, Snaptain drones have become very popular amongst photographers, owing to their affordable price tag and great material choices. Moreover, their quadcopter drones can be used by beginners and professionals alike for using drones to enhance their services.

In addition to this, most industry-level professionals agree that a flying device can qualify as a drone only when a person on the ground level remotely controls it. Thus, while it is easier to control handheld drones that only weigh a few thousand grams, the same cannot be said for heavier drones.

Skilled drone professionals state that it requires a lot of time and practice to command a drone in different directions without losing control of the device. In addition, drones come in different types and sizes, and with thousands of features, it's advisable only to allow skilled professionals to handle drones properly.

What is UAV?

 The abbreviation UAV stands for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle. A UAV's official definition is similar to this:

This powered aerial vehicle has no human operators and can use the aerodynamic force to lift and fly independently, or a person can pilot it remotely.

For a device to qualify as a UAV, it must be capable of autonomous flight. In other words, it should be able to carry out an operation without being remotely controlled by a human. Instead, a UAV uses a combination of GPS Tracking, robot learning, and a list of predefined instructions to travel from one place to another.

UAVs have both military and civilian applications, although hundreds of military forces worldwide are investing aggressively in UAVs to make them more and more advanced. In addition, western countries are using larger UAVs that are completely automated and can travel anywhere with the click of a button.

The terms' drone' and 'UAV' are often used synonymously. However, it is important to note that UAVs must be capable of independent flight, making a UAV more of a military device than a civilian device. That's because most drones used for professional or recreational uses don't have automatic flight as a feature.

Military UAVs belong to the heavier side of the spectrum, as they weigh anywhere from 3.3 kg to a staggering 2283 kg. Surprised? Well, the heaviest military UAV to ever exist, MQ-9 Predator, weighs precisely 2283 kg. These heavy UAVs don't feature the traditional quadcopter design but are designed more like a fighter jet since it would be easier for them to take off from the ground. 

What is the Difference Between Drone and UAV?

Now that we are familiar with the concept of drones and UAVs, let's discuss the main differences between a drone and a UAV. However, before commencing with the differences, we should establish that all UAVs are drones, but not all drones are UAVs. As mentioned before, this is because a drone is simply a flying unit, whereas a UAV is a flying unit capable of independent flight.

Please refer to the link for in-depth details on their differences. Given below is a summary of key differences.

A drone is a wider term than a UAV. Although many people confuse drones and UAVs with being the same, professionals agree that we can differentiate a drone and a UAV on the following points:

1.    Autonomous Flight

As we have already established, drones are a much wider term than UAVs. However, the defining feature that separates a UAV from your average drone is the ability of a UAV's autonomous flight. Autonomous flight refers to the ability of the drone to independently initiate the flight and landing of the UAV without any human assistance.

(Also, please note: Autonomous flight is different from an automatic flight, which means that the drone can only fly at a prescribed time through a prescribed route. It is programmed to fly at scheduled timings, whereas autonomous flight is initiated through the drone's good judgment.)

Thus, we can conclude that every UAV is a drone; but every drone is not a UAV since every drone does not have autonomous flight abilities.

2.    Performance

Both drones and UAVs are highly capable in their areas. However, in general, drones are simpler to control than UAVs since drones are usually geared more towards commercial use rather than military use. On the other hand, most UAVs are much more complex and powerful than a typical drone.

The added features in UAVs make them a lot more powerful than commercial drones. Therefore, while making a purchase decision, one should consider UAVs if they can use automated flights. For example, farmers can use automated drones (UAVs) to monitor their crops. We shall discuss more applications in the next section.

3.    Function and Applications

Both drones and UAVs differ in their functions. Drones are used for the following purposes:

  •      Military Drones
  •      Product And Food Delivery Purposes
  •      Emergency Rescue
  •      Wildlife and Historical Conservation
  •      Delivery of Medicinal Supplies
  •      Photography

These purposes can only be fulfilled by remotely controlling the drone from a distance. In contrast, UAVs can be used for the following application:

  •      Surveillance of large areas like crop fields, oil and gas facilities, seaports, etc.
  •      Monitoring of huge constructions
  •      Deployment of missiles at a particular location
  •      Geographic Mapping of unreachable locations
  •      Weather Forecasting

As you may have noticed, UAVs are handy for monitoring and accomplishing tasks that have a fixed route or location. UAVs are still in their infancy stage, but the coming years will see some huge advancement in automated drone flight. 

4.    Image/Design

Most drones feature a quadcopter design (drone with four propellers) or even a multi-copter design. These are also designed to be as light as possible and are loaded with features that can be fitted inside the drone's compact design. For example, camera drones carry a default camera system or camera holder for the user.

On the other hand, light UAVs have quadcopter or multi-copter designs, but heavier UAVs are designed more like jets, having only one propeller on the drone's front. Heavier UAVs typically belong to the military, have better automated flight, and have thousands of reserved features for only military purposes.

Some of the heaviest UAVs have enough space to fit more than a dozen adults at a time. In addition, they are very powerful both in terms of capabilities and features. Most commercial drones, on the other hand, are handheld.

5.    Materials

Drones are designed to be as light as possible, made of durable plastic material and run on an electric battery. Depending upon the drone's weight, size, and purpose, the propellers can be made out of plastic or metal.

Drones designed to go higher than 400 feet will be dealing with a lot of heat and humidity, so their components will also be made out of suitable materials.

On the other hand, UAVs can have a plastic body or a full metal/metal alloy build. The material choices of a UAV also depend upon the type of territories it will travel. For example, a UAV designed to take a waterfall close-up should have a stainless steel body and waterproof components.

Similarly, small military UAVs designed to infiltrate enemy bases are made out of bulletproof metals and designed to make as little noise as possible. Bigger UAVs are a lot heavier and are completely made out of metals. In addition, they are designed to be durable and use liquid fuel to fly instead of an electric battery.


In the end, we can finally conclude that a drone is a much wider term than a UAV, and people use these terms interchangeably. But experts agree that UAVs initiate flight on their own and hence are different from drones. Drones are also different from UAVs regarding autonomous flight, performance, application, design language and materials used.


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