Drone Definitions – Learning the drone lingo

If you are new to the drone market you can quickly find yourself very confused with the lingo (some say nonsense) and acronyms thrown around. Some people seem to take delight in statements such as:

“There was probably a problem with the lipo with a narrow FOV and lost LOS before the drone went AOL”

This section should help you with the acronyms, abbreviations and industry lingo, if you think anything is missing please add it below in the comments. The below section will also grow as, inevitably, more terms find their way into the lingo.

The Drone Lingo

  • Accelerometer

Anyone who has been involved in Dimension Engineering will likely already know this term as it is not exclusive to the drone industry/space. An accelerometer is basically an instrument that is used to measure the acceleration of a moving body. In layman’s terms this means it measures how fast something is moving in a given direction and the rate of acceleration, on some drones this information is fed back to the flight controller to keep the drone stable as it increases its speed.

Most people actually own an accelerometer without realizing it as almost all present day smart phones have them fitted as do over 90% of drones on the market today.

  • AGL

Altitude above ground level, not too much to say here as the next item on the list is altitude.

  • Altitude

This is an easy one, altitude, in the drone sense, refers to the height of a flying object (in relation to the land below it). There are actually specifically designed high altitude drones but it is imperative to bear in mind that local laws will prevent you from taking a high-altitude drone and flying it as high as technically possible. The action that will be taken against the first person to interfere with a commercial flight using a drone is going to be brutal, don’t be the scapegoat. Although you must check this it is usually safe to fly a drone no higher than 100 meters.

Recently a drone broke the altitude record (and the law) by flying to just over 11,000 feet.

  • AHF

Altitude Hold function is a feature that will enable the drone to hover and steady itself in the air so that the pilot can make use of the camera more effectively.

  • AP

Aerial photography, which can be either done as a hobby, commercial service or even by the military as part of a recon operation.

  • ARTF

Almost Ready to Fly, simple? Basically if a drone is ARTF it will be partially assembled and you will need to finish the job. As a beginner you may question the logic of an ARTF drone, however, as a beginner you would probably benefit the most from this type of setup.

Building a drone from the ground up is a very complex task but taking one that is pre built and ready to fly does not allow you the opportunity to tinker with the drone and get to know its workings. The ARTF option allows you to get your hands dirty, learn about the components and technicalities but without throwing you in at the deep end and expecting you to perform rocket science (or drone science).

  • Autonomous

Dare we use the term “auto pilot”! Basically, an autonomous drone is one that can actually fly on its own without constant supervision or control from a human.

  • Autopilot

Following autonomous this seemed a logical next definition, a feature of a drone to basically fly without real time input from a person. An example of autopilot usage would be where a drone is programmed to follow a selection of GPS coordinates to take it from A to B to C to D.

  • BPS

A barometric pressure sensor empowers the EAH on photography drones. The BPS basically feeds back the altitude to the flight controller so that it can remain stable for photography.

  • BNF

Bind and fly, a drone unit which is ready to simply be bound to an existing transmitter that you already own and at that point its ready to fly, use your existing transmitter that you know and love to fly your new drone with it is BNF.

  • Build

A build is simply a drone that you build yourself completely.

  • Commercial flight

This is one you should be able to guess, a drone flight which is occurring to make someone a profit.

  • Drone

If you need this defining you are probably in the wrong place.

  • Elevation

Remember elevation and altitude are two different things. Elevation is the height of an area above sea level. As most people know higher elevation means thinner air, this is why athletes sometimes chose to train at high elevation as it is harder to get their breath and puts the body under more stress. The same is true for drones, thin air means the drone needs to work harder and some lesser drones will not perform well at higher elevations so if you are investing in your first drone and planning on using it in an area of high elevation you should check the elevation limits on the model you are considering buying.

Also – when flying in thinner air at altitude, as the drone needs to work harder, you will often see a reduced flight time.

  • ESC

Electronic speed controller(s). All drones currently require at least one ESC, knowing this is increasing important if you plan to build your own drone or are considering the ARFT option. An ESC controls the amount of power that is sent to the engine and the number of ESC that a drone requires is related to the number of motors that it uses.

  • Flight Controller (or just controller)

Dare we call this the brain of the drone? The “logic” that keeps it in the air. The one thing you don’t want to malfunction as it usually means expensive repairs, an in air malfunction, obviously, can lead to disaster!

  • Fly Away

If you truly love something let it go and if it loves you back it will return, or something like that? The term fly away is one no drone owner wants to hear or at worst use. A fly away drone is one that has vanished into the sky never to be seen or heard of again. Improving flight controllers, GPS and tracking features fortunately are reducing the number of fly aways but the problem still exists.

The very nature of a fly away makes it difficult to diagnose the exact reasons why the problem occurred, however, anything from high levels of interference, faulty GPS/positional lock or a number of other things could be the cause of the problem. Flying your drone in a responsible manner in a sensible location can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a fly away.

  • Fly away protection system

An additional feature on some drones which will try to protect you from a fly away situation, fly away protection works in a number of ways but one example would be to restrict the drone from going beyond the range of control.

  • FOV

This is actually a frequently used one amongst the camera drone crew but a bit of a mystery to the mainstream, field of view means the view area that a camera has and all cameras have different FOV and these can again differ under different conditions.

Some drone cameras are actually designed for specific FOVs with more focus towards landscape or portrait.

  • FPV

First person view, much like a first person shooter style video game (older readers remember Doom, Duke Nuke Em and of course the new wave too!). Sometimes but less frequently called “through the eye view” basically you are seeing exactly what you would it you were legitimately piloting the drone, sitting in it, or even if you were it.

To be true FPV you need to be able to view in real time and high quality, this is a useful feature in camera drones and when using a camera drone a larger screen like a TV or PC are often the best approach, however, if you are in it for the fun and just want a thrill you are better off using HD goggles.

  • GPS

This might be the only term that does not need a definition due the GPS weening its way into everyday life. Initially we saw GPS in cars under the guise of satellite navigation subsequently GPS started to appear in mobile phones. GPS was initially used by the military as a location positioning service but as it became cheaper and more affordable it was adopted for everyday use. GPS is used in drones to provide stability but it is also used to “return to home” (see the term home position in this guide) on more advanced drones, it can also sometimes be used as a beacon to find a fallen drone.

  • Gyroscope

Without going into the absolute technical details on this one gyroscope is a technology that is used to aid drones in their direction and promote steady flight.

  • Headless Mode (similar to IOC/intelligent orientation control)

A fun and also useful feature which basically means refardless of which way round or up the drone is pushing a direction on your control will take the drone in that direction. For example, if you think logically if the drone was to flip upside down pushing forwards on your control, without this feature, would actually take the drone backwards, however in headless mode it will follow your instructions as if it was always the right way around.

  • Hobby Grade

This basically sits between toy grade and commercial grade drones. The quality and reliability of a hobby grade drone is far superior to the toy grade but the price does go up. With toy grade they usually come RTF but hobby grade have far more options.

  • Home Position (home point)

This is an option that can be set on some drones and others will set it themselves before they take off. It is logged using GPS so that the drone can identify where it took off from and the route back to the point of takeoff.

  • IMU

The inertial measurement unit is an element of the drone which works with other components on order to ensure smooth and stable flight by suppling additional information the the flight controller.

  • Lipo

Lipo is not to be confused with a medical procedure and refers to the type of battery commonly used in drones. The reason its not just called a “battery” is that the specific type of batter is a lithium-ion polymer. These are not the safest batteries in the word and you do need to handle them with care.

  • LOS

The term you have most likely not heard of but could guess if you were pressured. LOS is simply line of site, you probably guessed what it stands for and with that information you can certainly guess what it means. When people talk about line of site they just mean they can see their drone, if you lose sight of your drone your LOS has been “broken”.

  • Mod

A modification, a term used in lots of different hobby areas, basically where someone has done something to their own drone to customize it or make it feature in a nonstandard manner.

  • No fly zone

An area which for at least one reason you are not allowed to fly a drone, for example if you were to fly a drone over the whitehouse your drone would be confiscated and you would be fined…. At the very least!

  • OSD

On screen display, basically, however you control your drone, if it has a screen it is referred to as the OSD.

  • Pitch

– Pitch refers to the movement of the nose or back end of your drone. Adjusting the pitch makes the nose or back end of your drone tilt down or up.

  • PMU

The various components of the drone require different amounts of power at different times to carry out different actions and the power management unit is what handles the distribution of that power.

  • Pre Flight Planning

In a similar way a pilot carries out checks before flight a light aircraft (and to get a private pilots license in the UK potential pilots are tested on this) a drone pilot should take steps before each flight to make sure that the flight is done safely and efficiently in accordance with the law.

  • Roll

You may have heard this phrase used in the movie Top Gun and, as you will likely have noticed, the drone industry and aviation industry do share some terminology. A roll is a drone spin on a horizontal axis.

  • RTF

A shorter version of the NRTF acronym, where as NRTF is nearly ready to fly a RTF is ready to fly out of the box. If you buy a RTF drone you can expect to take it out of the box and fly it straight away.

  • RTH

We have talked extensively about GPS and the homing ability of drones, RTH is basically making use of these features to return to home. Different drones offer different options but most drones targeted at beginners have a RTH failsafe which brings the drone back to where it took off (not always your actual home) if it loses signal or malfunctions. You can also request the drone RTH if you lose track of what you are doing or need bailing out. Some controls even have a dedicated RTH button which is basically like an emergency get out button to be called on when needed.

One important note is that, if you have a RTH enabled drone you need to set the home location every time you take off unless this is done by default otherwise, upon hitting the RTH button the drone will attempt to get back to last set RTH location – if that happens if will make chasing down your dog the last time it escaped seem like child’s play.

  • Spotter (visual observer)

A phrase borrowed from the gym with a similar meaning, a drone spotter is nothing like a train spotter but it would not be surprising if at some time in the future “drone spotting” became a hobby. Going back on topic a spotter is someone who accompanies you while you fly the drone who is there solely to maintain LOS the whole time. A spotter can be an especially good idea when you are involved in commercial drone piloting or drone photography but is always useful. If you are reading this guide and learning the terms for the first time it is likely you are a beginner so take a spotter with you on your first few flights!

  • Station

This is less used in the hobbyist or even civilian drone user, it is much more a military term. Basically the station refers to the base from which a (usually military) drone is controlled.

  • Toy grade

A very basic level drone which is usually very affordable but lacking is many features. A toy grade drone is often what gets people into the drone thing to start with and then the upgrade to more serious drones over time. Toy grade drones are know to be a unstable and but the low price means taking to the skys for the first time does not have to be a scary experience and if you crash the damage (due to the size and weight) is usually minimal as is the damage to your pocket.

  • Transmitter (TX)

This is another easy one, the thing you control the drone with that you hold in your hand.

  • UAV

An unmanned aerial vehicle drone, basically a fancy name for a drone.

  • Waypoint

This is like a stop off point between where you take off and your end destination, a trip could have several waypoints.