Drones

Know your drones: quadcopters vs hexacopters vs octocopters

Dean Evans Technology Writer Twitter

How well do you know your drones? These days, there’s a flyer to suit every ability and every budget, from basic RC toys like Parrot’s Minidrones to the obstacle-avoiding Yuneec Typhoon H. But do you know what sets a quadcopter, a hexacopter and an octocopter apart (besides the number of rotors they have)?

It all boils down to one thing: stability.

Quadcopter drones

A quadcopter is a great entry-level drone and arguably the most popular type of multicopter. This simple four-propeller design is cheap to build, offering decent stability and speed. In most cases, larger quadcopters are powerful enough to carry small payloads, such as a GoPro camera or an extra battery pack.

Models such as the The DJI Phantom 4 and the 3D Robotics Solo offer a great introduction to UAV flying. The DJI Phantom 4 can reach speeds of up to 45mph and carry over 400g of payload. Its flight time is a decent 28 minutes (less if carrying extra weight).

Cheerson CX10 mini quadcopter drone
Beginners can gain their UAV wings with mini drones like the Cheerson CX10.

But you can get started with much simpler, cheaper UAVs. Perhaps start with a Cheerson CX10 Mini Quadcopter (pictured above). Then work your way up via a more advanced Syma X5C camera drone, before looking at an old (but affordable) DJI Phantom 2 or Phantom 3.

Hexacopter drones

Hexacopters are a step up, both in terms of price and performance. With six propellers, they don’t just offer more raw lifting power, but greater stability. They can often carry larger payloads too, making them ideal drones for aerial photography and industrial inspection.

As you can see in the video below from aerial photography specialist Skyvantage, a hexacopter is well worth the upgrade. The smooth, often epic shots here were filmed using a six-rotored DJI Spreading Wings S800.

There’s also a safety aspect to consider. With six propellers, a hexacopter can still remain airborne if one or even two of its rotors should fail.

Of course, there’s a trade-off. Hexacopters tend to be bigger and pricier than quadcopters, while the improved power puts a greater strain on the battery. So while a UAV like the Yuneec Typhoon H can reach speeds of up to 43.5mph and carry 250g of extra weight, flight times tend to average out slightly less than the DJI Phantom 4 at around 20-25 minutes.

Octocopter drones

As you might have guessed, an Octocopter trumps a hexacopter for performance. Thanks to its extra rotors, it can provide better stability (even in windy conditions) and can carry a heavier payload. Like the hexacopter, a good octocopter should still be able to fly even if several of its rotors fail.

Intel Falcon 8+ octocopter drone
Octocopter drones like the Intel Falcon 8+ offer greater stability, even in windy conditions.

The extra power and agility of these top-of-the-line drones makes them ideal for aerial imaging, industrial inspection, surveying, mapping and monitoring. The Intel Falcon 8+ for example, can zoom along at 35mph and carry up to 800g of additional weight. Based on the AscTec Falcon 8 design, its flight time is rated at between 12-22 minutes.

Ultimately, in a battle between these multicopters, there’s no clear winner. Quadcopters are ideal UAVs for beginners, hexacopters make a great semi-pro/hobbyist choice, while octocopters offer a fantastic aerial platform for professional videography, photography and remote inspection applications.

And beyond the high-tech drones here, there are foldable drones, passenger drones, LEGO drones, fixed wing drones, even an idea for a drone you can eat. Read all about them here: Drone tech: The smallest, strangest and smartest UAVs around.

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