• Renee Koh

Drone Terminology for Beginners

Even if you have never been in contact with a drone, you've certainly heard of it. Maybe from drone racing, Spiderman: Homecoming, or just general hype, but you've definitely heard of drones.

A subgroup of unmanned aerial aircraft, drones are widely used in the commercial and governmental sectors: soon enough, they'll be coming for you...



So, it's probably in your best interests to understand some drone terminology.

Your country's national aviation authority

For Malaysia, it's CAAM (Civil Aviation Authority of Malaysia); in Australia, CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority); in the US, FAA (Federal Aviation Administration).

These are the bodies of governmental authority in each named country that regulate the approval of aviation licences, testing and maintenance of aircraft, and basically anything to do with the paperwork of aviation.

If you decide you want to fly drones for a living, they're the ones to get your licence from, and their websites are the first one you should have a look at. If you want to fly your drone for fun though, and it's just within the bounds of your property, meh just go for it.

AGL (above ground level)

There are certain boundaries in the drone industry, and one of those is the altitude at which you can fly your drone up till. You can only fly your drone up to that limit, after which it might be dangerous for both your drone and low-flying aircraft.

In this case, the sky is NOT the limit: about 400 ft is.

LiDAR (light detection and ranging)

Like a sonar or radar system, LiDAR detects distance by shooting light from a laser, then calculating how much time it takes for the reflected light to return to the sensor. This system is quite expensive, although the cost is constantly decreasing due to technological advances (the new iPad Pro has it!)

But even if you get professional drones like those from DJI or Parrot, LiDAR sensors still come separate from the main drone.

BVLOS (beyond visual line of sight)

Usually, when you see people flying drones, they'll be in sight of their drone. You wouldn't fly your toy helicopter around someone's house without expecting it to crash against something, right? But since drone technology has improved, everyday BVLOS operations are now a possibility.

One can use live video streaming to determine what their drone footage looks like while relying on either pre-programmed routes, AI, or radar/LiDAR to fly beyond human sight. As of June 2020, the US government is discussing the best ways to authorise BVLOS not just as separate waivers but as a licence or permit.

It would mean allowing farmers to inspect their entire farm in one go or even make drone package deliveries the norm.

Hyperspectral Imaging

Hyperspectral imaging is often used to determine what the human eye cannot see if taken with a regular camera, for instance, the "thirstiness" of grapevines in a vineyard or the difference between healthy and malignant tissue. While a normal camera only captures images in three different wavelengths like the human eye does (red, green, blue), hyperspectral cameras can capture a much larger amount of wavelengths, from ultraviolet to infrared, to give a much more detailed picture.

By studying hyperspectral images, we can determine exactly what is in the photo as well as what is happening, which makes hyperspectral imaging so important in the drone industry.


Photogrammetry is the act of stitching together pieces of 2D images and electromagnetically captured information to create a 3D image of any desired object

Orthomosaic mapping

When you see something, the corners of your vision are slightly warped, aren't they? The same thing happens to cameras: the sides of the photos they take are slightly warped. Orthomosaic mapping is the tech that stitches together photos of the ground that had been flown over into a seamless tapestry without any warping where the map is stitched together.

rth (return to home)

Quite self-explanatory as well, but many first-time drone users don't realise this function exists. When your drone is set to rth, when it senses that its battery life is nearing the point where it will barely make it back to you before running out of juice, it will halt all operations to return to home. Cool, right?

Fixed Wing and Multicopters

Lastly, the two main types of commercial drones are fixed-wing drones and multicopters. Fixed-wing drones are more stable and can fly much faster in straight lines, but if you need quick agility, the multicopter, with its 4 - 16 blades and ability to move in all directions, is your best bet.

Acquaintance with drone terminology is just the beginning. If you're interested in knowing more about drones or flying one, read up on them more or dive in the deep end and consider finding a cheap drone as your first one. People will often crash a couple before getting the hang of it.

Go for it, kiddos


A. Wasser, L., 2020. The Basics Of Lidar - Light Detection And Ranging [online] Available at: https://www.neonscience.org/lidar-basics

McNabb, M., 2020. Making BVLOS Flight a Practical Reality: Onboard Sense and Avoid [online] Available at: https://dronelife.com/2020/03/26/making-bvlos-flight-a-practical-reality-onboard-sense-and-avoid/

Hyperspectral Imaging [online] Available at: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hyperspectral_imaging