Difference Between Drones, UAVs and Quadcopters

As drones have grown in popularity, the terms used to describe them have emerged. Words and acronyms such as UAVs and quadcopters can be seen on social media every day. Often without explaining the difference between them. 

Although drones, UAVs and quadcopters all have the same meaning, knowing the difference between them is simple. This makes it easier for the entire industry to understand. So the next time it appears on local sites or websites you’ll get it.


“Drone” is the general term used to refer to all unmanned vehicles. They can be controlled by remote control or by pre-programmed and integrated computers on board. Drones are a broad category of vehicles. It’s not only the popular recreational quadcopters seen on television. It also includes vehicles such as remote control recreational cars and unmanned military helicopters. 

The word “drone” originally comes from the US military during the development of drones. The term refers to the UK’s first unmanned aircraft, Queen Bee .

Some people in the industry distinguish drones as a type of pre-programmed aerial vehicle, without a human operator on the ground, and UAVs as aerial vehicles controlled by a human operator. 

However, this is not a universal definition. Drones and UAVs are generally interchangeable terms because few people consider unmanned vehicles like remote control cars to be drones – there are more technical terms for each category of unmanned vehicle.

Use of Drone

Drones are used by businesses, universities, armed forces and civilians – as a category they are not defined by their use. In the media, they’ve become a buzzword for both military UAVs and recreational quadcopters, but there are plenty of other drones serving countless other purposes.


While “drone” refers to anything from small remote-controlled cars to military weapons, the drone – or unmanned aerial vehicle – applies specifically to the drone flying contingent. UAVs come in a number of designs including airplanes, helicopters, and quadcopters.

Drones can be used for various applications just like drones. However, the term UAV is generally used in a military or government context to refer to aerial vehicles used as weapons or for research and scouting purposes. UAVs are part of a UAS – an unmanned aerial system. A UAS includes not only the UAV, but also the physical controller, the human operator, and even any satellite or computer needed for advanced processes. it is the entire system necessary for the UAV to carry out its operations. Like UAV, UAS is also an acronym used primarily by the military or governments, and people working in the drone/UAV industry tend to prefer the acronym UAV over the word “drone”.

Use of UAV

Since drones and UAVs are synonymous in the media, UAVs can be considered more complex than the average recreational drone which is usually a quadcopter. Recreational drones typically take video or photos for the human operator to view. While commercial or military UAVs are equipped with advanced sensors and can carry payloads of weapons or supplies. Advanced sensors in UAVs often map hard-to-reach places or seek heat from humans and animals.

There is no typical size for a UAV (or drone in general); Military UAVs are often designed as small aircraft, while research drones can be small enough for a person to hold in their hands. UAVs used for military purposes are usually much larger than recreational drones and made from stronger foams or alloys.

Although UAVs can and do carry weapons like missiles, they are not the same as missiles themselves. Missiles and UAVs are unmanned and airborne, but where missiles are designed to be destroyed during their operations, UAVs are designed to be reused. Even UAVs that break down can be located, recovered, and repaired to fly another day.


Just as UAVs are a segment of drones, quadcopters are part of UAVs. Quadcopters are distinguished from other UAVs by their four-rotor design. Specifically, quadcopters have four main rotors and no tail rotors; this distinguishes them from helicopters (which balance with a tail rotor) and other copoptors like octocopters with more rotor systems.

Although quadcopters do not need to be remote controlled as opposed to pre-programmed programs, most quadcopters today are of the older type and it can be inferred that a quadcopter will be remotely controlled.

a drone flying

Use of Quadcopter

Quadcopters are primarily intended for recreational use; flying drones commonly seen in the media used by civilians are usually quadcopters. These quadcopters have a camera for aerial or video shooting. 

Like any other UAV, quadcopters can be used for other purposes, but hobby drones are almost always quadcopters. Quadcopters come in a wide range of sizes, from drones small enough to fit in the palm of your hand (or smaller) to those several meters long. They are generally smaller than commercial or military UAVs.


Drone and UAV both refer to the same machine when it comes to aerial vehicles. However, for many people in the hobbyist or drone industry, the drone has taken on a negative meaning. Since drones are associated with military drones carrying missiles, many hobbyists and industrialists prefer to use more specific terms, such as drone. The UAV is also used by the military, and in official documentation it is better to keep agencies away from bad press. Hobbyists will also use terms such as quadcopter in order to describe their vehicle as accurately as possible and to distance themselves from the negativity of the term drone.


Drones and UAVs, as general categories, are subject to a litany of airspace regulations. In the United States, for example, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) regulates drones, while in Canada the regulatory body is Transport Canada. For these two agencies, the height and the airspaces in which the drones can penetrate are limited. Anyone wishing to use a drone for commercial purposes must obtain a license or registration.

Small hobby drones like quadcopters are subject to far fewer regulations. In the United States and Canada, for example, recreational drones weighing certain weights do not require a license or registration. Small quadcopters also have different airspace restrictions, as they tend to fly at lower heights than commercial drones. The regulations for small recreational drones state that it must bear indication of address and name of the owner. That it must be flown over sight and that it must be kept away from dangers and natural disasters. The regulations depend on the use of the drones and their weight.

Bottom Line

Drones, UAVs and quadcopters can simply be considered as related animals. It’s same way that a lion is a kind of big cat, a big cat is a kind of feline. Qquadcopters are a type UAVs and UAVs are a type of drone. Quadcopters are also generally distinguished from other UAVs and drones. This due to their use primarily as recreational vehicles, while other drones are also used for military or defense applications. Although the term drone is sometimes still fluid, this hierarchical definition is used by the industry. This can be adopted by anyone who wants to understand the world of drones a little more.

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