12 drones to own

drones

Yes, these are the drones you're looking for. Non-military drones are becoming big business and, while their legal status is up in the air, they are being used just about everywhere for everything from security to mapping, making movies, inspections and, of course, surveillance. If you're in the market for your very own drone here are 12 electric-powered models that might fit the bill. Be warned, some are not easy to fly, most can be dangerous and, for the really sophisticated models, they get pretty spendy. Share your drone experiences below or drop a note to gearhead@gibbs.com then follow me on TwitterApp.net, and Facebook.

Skybotix CoaX Autonomous UAV Micro Helicopter Drone
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Skybotix CoaX Autonomous UAV Micro Helicopter Drone

Type: Two rotor co-axial

Flight time: 20 minutes

Range:  ~800 feet (WiFi)

Payload: Included Targus micro Webcam or custom payload

Price: $4,999

Designed for research and education, the CoaX is equipped with an integrated Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), a pressure sensor, a down-looking sonar, three side-looking sonars and a color camera. By default it is controlled via Bluetooth while ZigBee and WiFi or 2.4GHz remote control are options. The CoaX is suitable for indoor and outdoor inspection tasks and surveillance as well as research projects.

CropCam
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CropCam

Type: Airplane

Flight time: 55 minutes

Range:  2 miles

Payload: Various Pentax camera models

Price: $6,999

Designed as an inexpensive alternative to land surveys using aircraft or satellite imaging the CropCam can be flown by radio control or in autonomous control mode.

RX Ready FPV Sport Quad
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RX Ready FPV Sport Quad

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: Not specified

Range: ~1,000 yards (RF link)

Payload: 8 ounces

Price: $1,890 (optional receiver built into video goggles, $290) 

Hand-built by a small manufacturer, these drones look very cool. Unfortunately there's not much more information available.

Parrot AR Drone
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Parrot AR Drone 2.0

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: 36 minutes (Power Edition)

Range:  ~800 feet (WiFi)

Payload: Built-in HD 720p 30fps camera

Price: $370

I reviewed the original version of the Parrot AR Drone and loved it. The new version looks significantly upgraded with bigger batteries in both the standard and Power Edition. Compared to many other drone products it's really easy to fly via WiFi using an iOS or Android device as the controller. Video is OK in flight but the control software provides a post flight video stabilization feature. Check out the AR.Drone 2.0 Best Of User Videos #2 reel.

Microdrones md4-200 and md4-1000
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Microdrones md4-200 and md4-1000

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: md4-200, 35 minutes / md4-1000, 88 minutes

Range:  Not specified

Payload: md4-200, 7 ounces / md4-1000, 28 ounces

Price: md4-200, starts at $27,106 / md4-1000, starts at $54,212

These are sophisticated drones that are dust and rain resistant and come with a complete ground station package. A range of camera options is available including still, daylight video, lowlight video, thermal and HQ video. The drones can be flown by remote control or by a programmable autonomous flight control system. The md4-1000 set a quadrotor record by autonomously navigating a 25 minute, 12 kilometer flight over the Alps carrying an HD camera in poor weather conditions while avoiding power and telephone lines.

OFM Intruder Q7 ASD Autonomous Flight Version
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OFM Intruder Q7 ASD Autonomous Flight Version

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: 20 minutes

Range:  1.86 miles

Payload: 52 ounces

Price: $4,599

Another small manufacturer with a pretty impressive product list, but a surprisingly poor Web site (the spelling and grammar are painful). This quadrotor certainly looks impressive, and its autonomous flight system can be upgraded to support up to 50 waypoints.

Wolverine III Helicopter UAV
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Wolverine III Helicopter UAV

Type: Helicopter

Flight time: 51 minutes

Range: 7 miles standard, 21 miles optional

Payload: 12 pounds

Price: Quote on request

This is a monster drone that's definitely in the professional category. It has a very sophisticated ground control station that is configurable for various serial-based transceivers using S-Band, UHF and Iriridium. The avionics package provides real time system information and health monitoring feedback as well as real time mission modification and waypoint upload during flight, and emergency return home functionality.

Draganflyer X4-ES
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Draganflyer X4-ES

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: 20 minutes

Range:  Greater than 655 feet

Payload: Custom modules up to 1.5 pounds

Price: Quote on request

Draganfly offers a range of drones and the X4-ES is one of the top-of-the-line models. Designed for portability, the X4-ES folds up for storage and transport. It has 11 on-board sensors the company's SteadyFlight system uses to provide realtime control and telemetry data to the very slick custom handheld  controller. The X4-ES can be flown remotely or use autonomous flight mode and a large selection of camera options is available.

Lil' Draganflyer Plus
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Lil' Draganflyer Plus

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: 10 minutes

Range:  490 feet

Payload: Optional modules

Price: $130

This is definitely an amateur drone, but it's still pretty cool. Optional accessories include a color camera, a missile launcher, a water canon, a bubble blower, and a hook and basket. Why don't I have one of these in my office?

ELEV-8 Quadcopter
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ELEV-8 Quadcopter

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: Not specified

Range: Not specified

Payload: 2 pounds

Price: $599

Very much an enthusiast's platform, the ELEV-8 is a kit sold by Parallax, famous for microcontroller systems. What's special about the ELEV-8 is that it's an open source hardware and software platform and what is really impressive is the payload capacity ... that's a lot of payload for a relatively small platform.

DJI Phantom
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DJI Phantom

Type: Quadrotor

Flight time: 15 minutes

Range:  3,280 feet

Payload: Optional GoPro camera

Price: $399

More of a hobbyist platform, the DJI Phantom has a clean, slick design and good price. The videos shot from these drones is impressively stable and free from "jello" (that's the video "shake" that comes from one or more of a quadrotor's blades being unbalanced). A new version called the Phantom Vision is in development and will include a built-in camera with a video downlink to smartphones.

Okto XL
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Okto XL

Type: Octorotor

Flight time: 25 minutes

Range: Not specified

Payload: 5.5 pounds

Price: $6,640

The Okto XL made by MikroKopter is a powerful drone platform. Its eight rotor configuration gives it a huge amount of lift and stability even in windy conditions. The video of the Okto flying controlled by the Graupner MC-32 ground station (priced at an additional $1,795) is very cool.