The first time I saw a drone functioning my first taught was that I’m 100% sure that I would buy one for myself too.
YouTube was the first place where I started my research.
I watched tens of best drones for beginners videos. After several videos, I started to figure out that this hobby might not be the cheapest one.
My second thought was:
Why are these drones so expensive?
The majority of good drones are expensive because of the amount of research and development the manufacturer has to finance. Advanced technologies like gimbals for the camera, anti-collision sensors, software, etc. need a lot of investment to make them better. These costs are affecting the end-user.
In this article, I’m trying to gather basic yet essential information about the costs of materials and technology to understand why drones are so expensive. You will also find out if building a drone for yourself is cheaper or not.
What is so expensive on drones?
Many people might think that the bigger a drone is, the more you have to pay for it. To a certain point, this fact can be true. A bigger device requires more raw material. But what are the reasons for the big price differences between different drones?
Are drone Materials expensive?
The majority of drones are made of the same materials but in different qualities.
The basic materials for manufacturing a drone are:
- Thermoplastics: nylon, polystyrene, polyester, etc. (~$0.99/kg)
- Carbon fiber-reinforced composites (~$21.5/kg)
- Aluminum (~$3/kg)
- Batteries (~$18 – cheapest ones: 2250 mAH Lipo up to $60-$70/ battery)
Drone manufacturing started to explode in the last 10 – 12 years. Before that drones were used mainly by the army. The hobby drone innovations got more attention.
As the products started to become more user userfriendly, more people became interested in this hobby.
This increasing interest opened the door for a lot of new companies to start using better materials, design, and engineering.
These days the demand for quality drones at fair prices is very high.
But is it possible to get them both?
As you can see the price of basic materials is fairly low. The batteries will cost the most in every drone.
If you are buying two drones with a big difference between their price tags you will notice the following things:
The quality of the material is way better on the majority of more expensive drones.
Cheaper drones tend to have a frame and propellers built with lower quality thermoplastics.
It’s hard to describe how can you notice it, but only by holding them in your hand, you can feel that the cheap one can seem fragile.
On the other hand, a better brand like DJI is making more massive and long-lasting frames and propellers.
But the truth behind these quality differences is not necessarily a more expensive raw material.
Then why do you need to pay so much for a drone?
Cost of drone Technology
Every time I’m planning to buy a new electronic device, the first things I check are:
- The quality of material
- Reliability of the product/manufacturer
- The service/tools I get for my money
Like in the majority of industries the research and development are the basis of good products. The more a company can invest in both of these, the better products it can offer.
If you want to become an owner of a drone you might want the best technologies.
But to get a drone with a long flight time, while avoiding obstacles and is easy to control you have to pay a fairly big price.
A lot of drone manufacturers are offering very cheap drones, even for $10. Their role is to fly for 2-3 minutes in the room. They can crash without major damages, but you won’t get too much fun for that price.
Bigger and more advanced drones are upgraded with sensors, software that are helping the pilot not to crash and enjoy the flight easily.
The development of these features took years and hundreds of thousands or not millions of dollars for bigger companies.
They needed to hire smart and creative engineers and designers to match the need of the end-user.
These are the main reason why better drones will cost significantly more. The majority of the cost is not necessarily buying the drone, but a good remote controller.
How expensive it is to make a drone?
Many people are thinking about building a drone for themselves as a DIY project. You might think if you can make it happen from cheap parts from China the price will drop significantly.
In some ways this presumption is true. If you know how to assemble a drone, you can skip a lot of expenses. But even this way you won’t make a professional quadcopter only from $50 – $60.
The majority of these self-made drones are built for freestyle flying or even racing. So, automated operations like complex sensors and anti-collision systems are rare on these.
The biggest difference between these and „normal” drones is not necessarily their price tag. They are faster, a little bit cheaper to build and a lot more fun to fly.
Based on a lot of videos, blogs, and forums, it seems the average self-built drone will cost you around $250 – $400 depending on the tools you want to use on them. If you are willing to wait for bigger sales this amount can fall even lower.
Can you build a cheap and professional drone at home?
As I already mentioned the final price tag will stop o the level you want to build your quadcopter. You have the possibility to use quality materials, good batteries.
Installing an expensive gimble and a better HD camera will result in a fairly expensive home-built drone.
The most expensive part of your drone will always be the transmitter. Of course, you can find cheap ones for like $15 – $35.
But if you can’t afford a decent one for like $100 it might be a better idea to buy a compact package from a serious company.
Building a simple and little quadcopter with cheap parts might be successful even with a budget of $100.
The more money you can use for a DIY project like this, the better tools you can use. Adding another $150 – $200 can result in a better FPV drone even with goggles.
My personal opinion about building a drone only for low costs will not be worth it for everyone. You might save $100 – $300 or even more, but you need to invest a lot of time and energy to succeed in a project like this.
Drone maintenance cost
Becoming a drone user does not mean paying your purchase cost and after that, you are free to go. Drones are similar to other electronic devices.
After a period of time, some of their parts will fail even without crashing the drone.
But the sad truth is that even experienced drone pilots will crash their aircraft from time to time.
The maintenance cost of these is depending on your drone. Generally speaking, if you have a home-built quadcopter, you will replace almost every part without too big expenses.
But DJI drones for example will face bigger bills after even a minor crash. You need to send it to a service, which also has a cost.
Their products are full of expensive parts like gimbal for the camera or even the motors. Besides this, repairing a drone requires a fair amount of experience and knowledge.
The service at an expert will cost you around $60 – $70 an hour.
Making a drone at home as a DIY project might cost between $200-$400 depending don’t the complexity of your aircraft.
The amount of research and development a new feature on drones needs is the main factor of asking for higher prices.
Using materials bought on sales, or ordered directly from China are the best solutions to make a cheap drone.