What is a Drone

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past few years, you have certainly heard the term “drone”. This has become a blanket term that encompasses any aircraft that does not have a pilot inside. Some are operated solely by a human operator, while others operate by some form of autopilot system and a pre-determined flight plan. While their original applications were almost exclusively for the military, the recent reduction in costs for small drones has led to a boom in the commercial market, with drones now being used for any number of things, from aerial photography, law enforcement, agriculture, and even drone racing. Basically, any industry that can benefit from an aerial vantage point is either currently using drone technology, or will be in the near future.


But what exactly is a drone? In this post, I will be explaining the basic components that make up a drone, and their applications and benefits for the real estate community.



For this discussion, I am going to stick to quadcopters. While fixed wing and helicopter drones could be used to capture real estate videos, quadcopters are in my mind the best fit for real estate applications. There are several drone manufacturers in the market right now that provide phenomenal products with which to capture breathtaking stills and video. Since I own a DJI Phantom 3 Professional drone, I am going to use this for my example. Each drone will be slightly different, but most of the major players feature very similar functionalities. My intention is not to get into an in-depth discussion of every component of a typical quadcopter, just simply give an overview of the major components. If you want a more in-depth discussion, I highly recommend the following sites that I have run across during my research:


Droning On: The Anatomy of A Drone



The drone frame holds all the major components together. Most drones currently being made are of composite construction, which makes them lightweight, allowing for more payload, and more maneuverable. Quadcopter frames will have landing gear, which extend vertically downward from the center section to allow for safe stable takeoffs and landings. These gear will extend slightly past the camera, to allow enough clearance as to not impact the camera during takeoff and landing. In my experience, the quadcopter frame is fairly sturdy. They cannot sustain a complete vertical drop from several hundred feet, but they also will not shatter with mild collisions with structure.



For a quadcopter, there are 4 sets of motors and propellers. These extend outward from the center of the frame, and provide the aerodynamic mechanism by which the drone maneuvers. The propellers provide the actual lift that get the drone off the ground. They are essentially the same type of propellers that you would find on any other R/C airplane. By the control inputs given by the operator, or an autopilot system, the speed at which the motors rotate determines the flight direction of the quadcopter. If the drone is commanded to ascend, all motor speeds will increase. Conversely, if it is commanded to descend, all motor speeds will increase. To make a quadrotor turn right, motor speeds will be increased on the left side and decreased on the right side to make it tilt right.


The drone battery is one of the largest overall drivers of drone size and weight. For my Phantom 3 Pro, the battery makes up approximately 25% of the overall weight. The overall flight time of the drone is also going to be proportional to the battery size. The longer the desired flight time, the larger the battery needs to be, but that also drives up the structural weight, thus requiring an even larger battery. This is the vicious cycle that all aircraft designers have struggled with since the dawn of flight. DJI publishes a flight time of 23 minutes for the Phantom 3 Professional. This is total time to complete battery failure. In practice, you do not ever want to approach this limit. The Phantom 3 has a cool feature that will make the drone automatically return home when the battery life reaches its critical limit, which is usually 25% battery life. Once it reaches this limit, the drone automatically returns home to the home point initially recorded at takeoff.



A top-notch camera is the most important part of your drone if you are going to be using it for aerial photography purposes. Many current drones on the market carry 4K cameras. But what exactly is 4K? It simply means that there are approximately 4,000 pixels in the footage width. It brings photo and video clarity to a whole new level. I am by no means an expert on 4K video technology, but the link below gives a great explanation. Definitely check it out if you want an in-depth discussion of 4K video.





The camera gimbal is as important as the drone itself, as it maintains stabilization of the camera during flight. Without it, photo and video would be very choppy. Most gimbals on the high-end camera drones are 3-axis brushless gimbals. There are 2 components to these, the gimbal itself, and the gimbal mount. The gimbal attaches directly to the camera, and provides 3-axis stabilization. Many also allow the drone camera to rotate during flight. The gimbal on my Phantom 3 allows the camera to be rotate from -90 degrees (looking directly down) to +30 degrees above the horizon. The other component to the gimbal system is the gimbal mount. The gimbal mount attaches at 4 points to the center of the frame. At each of these points there is a shock absorbing material that acts to isolate the camera from the high vibration of the quadcopter propellers.




Now that we have discussed the basic components that make a typical drone that could be used for real estate purposes, let’s talk about actual applications in which drone photography would provide additional value to your marketing efforts.


Luxury Properties

Let’s face it. When anybody starts looking for a new home, the first place they go is the Internet. If your listing for your high-end luxury property has captivating drone photos and video, potential buyers are going to notice that. It’s not standard for all online real estate listings to provide drone photo and video, but it won’t be very long before it is commonplace. Here are the things that can be provided by drone video that cannot be offered by ground-based photography:

  • Spatial orientation between the home and nearby amenities, such as a park or swimming pool.
  • An aerial perspective that showcases the entire property and land in one shot
  • Easily provide shots of the home at multiple angles
  • Showing the potential buyer what the drive home might look like
  • Stunning fly-bys of the prominent outdoor features, such as gardens, swimming pools, or entertainment areas

Here is a video showcasing luxury properties using aerial drone footage:


Commercial Properties

Commercial properties will benefit from drone photography in the same way as luxury properties. Here are just a few of the types of commercial real estate that could potentially use drones for their marketing campaigns:

  • Golf courses – Some golf courses are using drone photography for hole by hole tours of the course. This provides golfers with an excellent reference to prominent features of each hole. Check out this great video of a golf course flyover by a drone:


  • Apartment complexes – Multi-unit residential units could highlight all the amenities of the property, such as swimming pools, tennis courts, fitness centers.


Hopefully, you now have some basic information of what a drone is, and how it can be used to improve your real estate marketing. In next week’s post, I will be discussing the current legal climate of using drones for real estate photography, with the focus being on the FAA’s Part 107 drone laws.