Indoor Drones: What They Are, What They Do, and the Different Types on the Market

What are indoor drones and how are they used? Learn about why indoor drones have risen in popularity over the last few years and the different types on the market today.

In the last few years the term “indoor drone” has risen quite a lot in popularity.
 
We see people talking about indoor drones for kids, indoor drones for racing, and indoor drones for industrial work like inspections and 3D mapping—that is, the kind of indoor drones that we make here at Flyability.

In this article we’ll cover why you might want to fly a drone indoors, the different types of indoor drones on the market, and examples and use cases for professional indoor drone applications.

Here is a table of contents in case you'd like to jump around within this article:

Can You Fly a Drone Indoors?

Before we go any further, you might be wondering whether you can fly a drone inside at all.

The answer is yes, absolutely you can—if your drone was made to fly indoors.

But how can you tell if you have an indoor drone? 

Start by looking at the language your drone’s manufacturer uses to describe your drone. If the words ‘indoor’ or ‘inside’ are used, you’re probably good to go. 

Alternately, just look at the drone and think about how much space it will need to fly and whether it might get damaged or hurt something (or someone) if it were to crash inside your home. 

When you’re looking at a microdrone that weighs 8 ounces and has protected propellers, like the one in the image below, it’s pretty clear that it won’t do any damage if it were to crash in your house.

snaptain-indoor-drone

The Snaptain SP350 Indoor Drone

And if you look at a drone like the Elios 2, it’s clear you can also fly it indoors. 

Flyability_Elios 2_2019 - Elios 2 in Action (31) - manhole - metal tank

Unlike the microdrone we showed above, which is a toy, the Elios 2 is a flying robot designed for professional work. So even though you could hypothetically fly it inside your house, you probably wouldn’t want to—that would be like buying a high-end digital camera when all you want to do is take Polaroids for fun.

On the other hand, when you look at a mid-sized quadcopter like DJI’s Mavic 2 Pro, you can just tell by looking at it that you don’t want to fly it in close quarters. Even with propeller guards, this drone just wasn’t designed for indoor flying.

dji-mavic-2-pro

The DJI Mavic 2 Pro

The only scenario in which you might want to fly a drone like this inside is if you were planning to fly in a large warehouse or at a tradeshow inside an enclosure made for demonstrations, where the airspace is so large that you might as well be outdoors.  

Why Fly a Drone Indoors?

There are a lot of different scenarios that might call for indoor flying. And there are different types of drones to go along with each of these scenarios.

Here are some of the most common reasons for wanting to fly a drone inside, along with the type of drone best suited for each reason.

  • For fun. Toy indoor drones, also called microdrones, are best for this type of flying.
  • For practice. Toy indoor drones are also usually your best option for this type of flying too, although you could try flying with a regular commercial drone using an add-on cage if you only want to practice flying a certain model of drone. 
  • For racing. Racing indoor drones are best for this type of flying.
  • For work. Professional indoor drones are going to be your best—and only—option if you want to fly indoors for any kind of work-related need, such as inspections, visual data collection, or 3D modeling.

The Three Types of Indoor Drones

Now that we’ve covered the reasons you might want to fly a drone indoors, let’s take a closer look at the different types of indoor drones on the market.

Here's a list of the three types in case you would like to jump around:

1. Toy Indoor Drones
2. FPV Racing Indoor Drones
3. Professional Indoor Drones

1. Toy Indoor Drones

A toy indoor drone is any kind of drone made for hobbyists that can be safely flown indoors, like the microdrone we covered above that weighs only 8 ounces.

Here are some key characteristics of toy indoor drones:

  • They’re lightweight. Toy indoor drones usually weigh less than a pound.
  • They have short battery lives. Toy indoor drones usually only have flight times of 5-15 minutes.
  • They typically don’t have cameras. Toy indoor drones often won’t have a camera. If they do have one, it’s usually not high quality.
  • They’re inexpensive. Toy indoor drones usually cost less than $100 U.S.
  • They’re safe. Almost all toy indoor drones come with propellor guards (also called prop guards), and are so lightweight that they won’t hurt you or your things if they crash.

toy-indoor-drone

An Example of a Toy Indoor Drone

 

2. FPV Racing Indoor Drones 

Racing indoor drones are another special category of indoor drone. 

Indoor racing drones are not just another type of toy drone. As drone racing has evolved, the technology behind racing drones has improved to an impressive extent.

When it comes to racing drones, the indoor scenarios these drones are made to fly in are big, open spaces with indoor drone race tracks. These drones are not made for flying in your living room.

Here are some key characteristics of racing indoor drones:

  • They’re FPV (First Person View). Indoor racing drones are all going to be FPV, with a screen and/or goggles that allow you to see what the drone sees as it flies in real time.
  • They’re fast. These drones are made for racing, so they go fast—very fast.
  • They’re *probably* not for flying at home. Given how fast these drones can go, you probably don’t want to fly them at home.
  • Safety is available—but not guaranteed. Unlike with toy indoor drones, indoor racing drones may not always come with prop guards. However, these will usually be available as an additional purchase.

fpv-racing-indoor-droneAn Example of an FPV Racing Indoor Drone

 

3. Professional Indoor Drones

Toy drones and racing drones are made for specific types of flying: either you want to fly for fun, or you want to race.

But professional indoor drones can be used in a variety of different scenarios, including:

  • Collecting visual data for inspection purposes inside industrial assets like boilers, pressure vessels, or chimneys.
  • Replacing the need for a human to enter a confined, hazardous space. For example, in nuclear power plants, indoor drones can replace the need for humans to expose themselves to radiation in order to collect visual data.
  • Entering spaces that are difficult for humans to access, like sewers, mines, or even parts of amusement park rides

Some of the biggest industries using professional indoor drones these days are Oil & Gas, Mining, and Power Generation.

Flyability Elios 1

The Elios 1 Professional Indoor Drone in Action

But there are lots of others. Check out our case studies to learn more about the different industries that use indoors drones.

Here are some key characteristics of professional indoor drones:

  • They have cages. Drone cages serve the dual purpose of protecting the drone from damage and protecting those using the drone from injury.
  • They have high-end cameras. Most professional indoor drones are used to collect visual data in confined spaces. This means they need to come with high-quality inspection cameras in order to collect high-quality visual data.
  • They have different sensor options. Many professional indoor drones come with a thermal camera option, or the option to switch out payloads for a thermal camera or other sensor. As indoor drone technology continues to be developed it’s likely that other types of NDT (Non-Destructive Testing) sensors may become available as payload options.

TwO Categories of Drone Cages

Although all professional indoor drones have drone cages, not all drone cages are the same.

Currently, there are two different categories of drone cages on the market:

1. Indoor Drones with Add-On Cages

These are consumer drones that weren’t made for indoor applications, but instead have a separate cage that’s been purchased and added onto the drone. Drones with add-on cages aren’t ideal for most industrial settings because they weren’t created to sustain collisions.

2. Indoor Drones with Built-In Cages

Indoor drones with built-in cages were designed to sustain collisions in order to support heavy-duty industrial work that requires flying in confined spaces.

elios-2-indoor-drone

The Elios 2 Uses a Built-In Cage Design

While an add-on cage is designed and created separately from the design and creation of the drone to which it is attached, fixed cages for indoor drones like the Elios 1 and Elios 2 are designed from the ground up to allow the drone to sustain collisions and continue flying.

This makes a huge difference when it comes to the longevity of the drone, since it can collide without any damage. 

It also makes a big difference for the quality of visual data the drone can collect, since collisions do not have as much of an impact on the drone’s trajectory as they will with an add-on cage, or on the resulting video footage the drone collects.

[Related reading: What Does a Drone Cage Do? Use Cases, Types, and Indoor Inspection Applications]

The Benefits of Professional Indoor Drones

Wondering why people use indoor drones for professional work? 

Here are three of the main benefits companies throughout the world are currently seeing from using these drones in industrial settings.

1. Safety

Using a drone to enter a confined, potentially hazardous space is inherently safer than sending a person in to do the same job.

2. Savings/Reduced Downtime

Drones are often an inexpensive alternative to manual options when it comes to collecting visual data for inspection purposes, in part because they make visual inspections possible without expensive scaffolding and the downtime needed to put it up and take it down.

[Related reading: Argentinian energy company saved $420,000 with a single test flight of the Elios 1]

3. Access.

Professional indoor drones can help you reach places that might not otherwise be accessible. Not only can they get you access, but they can gather high-quality visual data once you get there.

Want to see a professional indoor drone in action? Watch this video of the Elios 2 inspecting a mine:

 

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