Drone based project ideas [16 project ideas]

There are so many things that you can do with a drone. Perhaps you are a student who needs to do a fun project for your class. Alternatively, you may be a person who is always looking for fun things to do with your drone and you just want to come across the best drone based project ideas that you can implement to get more from your drone. In this article, we’re going to go over all of the best things that you can do with your drone and the projects that will help you find a new use and applications for your drone.

You can use a drone to carry things, use the camera to monitor wildlife, you can purchase an underwater drone to monitor fish and you can use advanced add-ons such as IR cameras and LIDAR to collect data for your project. You can also build and hack drones into many different gadgets.

What you can do with your drone is really only limited by your imagination. There are a ton of skills that you can develop during your project. Some of them will require extra investment into third-party additions such as infrared cameras or fishing rigs but, there are plenty of things you can do with a consumer-level and standard drone.

Drones that carry things

The first series of project ideas come from using your drone to carry a load of payloads to a destination. There are a number of drones that can carry things and even the most common of drones can carry relatively heavy items. For example, the DJI Phantom series drones can lift up to 1.1 kg of weight.

Here is a comparison of some of the most popular commercial drones alongside drones that are manufactured to lift heavy things! You’ll be surprised at exactly how much some of the smaller drones can lift!

DroneMaximum PayloadSource of information
DJI Matrice 600 Pro6 kgOfficial Website
Freefly Systems ALTA 812 kgOfficial Website
DJI Agras MG-110 kgOfficial Website
PD6B-AW-ARM20 kgOfficial Website
DJI Mavic Mini181 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic Air331 gYouTube experiment
DJI Mavic 2 Pro531 gYouTube experiment
DJI Phantom 31.1 kgYouTube Experiment
DJI Phantom 41.1 kgYouTube Experiment
DJI Spark65 gYouTube Experiment
VALKYRIE HEAVY PRO30 kgOfficial YouTube video

You will notice that even some of the smallest drones such as the DJI Mavic mini can lift about 181 g which is enough to send a water balloon or small parcel to someone. Just remember that a lot of jurisdictions will require the drone to be flown in line of sight.

Fishing

If your drone is able to carry a reasonable payload you can use it for fishing. An awesome project for a fishing drone is to measure the effectiveness of dropping bait using a drone versus regular shore fishing.

If you want to know more about the best drone for fishing and also the adapters that you can use to attach fishing line – and drop fishing line – from commercially available drones check out my other article where I go through all of the top products and information you to know about using your drone for fishing.

There are an increasing number of attachments for common commercial photography drones that can carry and drop bait. Here are some of the most popular:

ProductLink
Gannet release systemsWebsite link
O’woda Mavic 2 Drone Airdropper Clip Amazon link
Top Race Drone Clip Remote Control Object LauncherAmazon Link
Sky RiggerWebsite Link

You have to make sure that with all of these gadgets that they are compatible with the model of drone that you are using and that they are fully tested before heading out into the ocean! A couple of dry runs on land will make sure that you won’t have to suffer the pain of watching your drone swimming because of a silly technical error.

Delivery

Do you remember when drones were touted as the next biggest thing for delivery? The research is continuing but was ultimately stopped because of the security aspects of having automated vehicles flying in the sky and also technical and hardware limitations which require a few years of research to work out.

However, a delivery project is perfect for a drone project idea. For example, you could look at the viability of using a drone to carry various weights from one area to another and look at variables including payload weight, delivery times, and how many deliveries a drone can do on a particular sized battery.

Camera drones

Typically, a consumer drone comes with a high definition camera which you can use for a ton of different project ideas. Depending on the type of camera drone that you have you may be able to do wildlife monitoring – as long as the drone has zoom – and you can capture the fauna and flora in high definition to monitor tree species and coverage of trees over a number of years.

Wildlife monitoring

A drone is able to get into hard-to-reach places that would take a team of researchers many hours to trek into.

By using a drone you will be able to quickly fly into areas of high vegetation and past difficult obstacles to monitor wildlife and take shots of different species in an area. Your project idea may involve looking for the number of different species in a given search area, counting a certain species in a given search area or an exploratory drone mission where you are on the search for new and exciting wildlife activities and movements.

Shark spotting

If you are comfortable with flying your drone out over the water you can use it to spot a huge range of aquatic animals and wildlife. One of the most satisfying aspects of flying a drone overwater is the ability to look straight down into the water and overcome any glare. This means that you are able to spot wildlife with much greater precision than if you are looking from the shore.

Personally, I have found dolphins and turtles in my local area. Here is the YouTube video of my find!

If you want to know more about flying safely overwater with your drone check out my other article where I go over the 12 tips that you need for making sure your drone returns successfully – click here to be taken to article.

Underwater drones

Your drone project doesn’t have to be limited to the sky. There are a ton of different underwater drones and you can read about them in my ultimate guide to underwater drones – click here.

Exploring the underwater world with a drone means that you don’t have to get any scuba licenses or training in order to monitor structures and get an opportunity to view the underwater world. When I am scuba-diving you become part of the aquatic environment and it is very different to viewing it from above. With an underwater drone you are able to watch fish in their natural habitat without becoming a predator or changing their behaviour significantly.

Monitor corrosion

You can use an underwater drone to monitor underwater assets such as pylons and anchoring spots to make sure that they are not corroded to the point of becoming damaged.

Sending an all underwater drone of under a jetty will give you an opportunity to see the coral and the sea life that has gathered around the pylons whilst also monitoring any corrosion that has happened on metallic items.

The sea is an incredibly corrosive environment, and it can quickly corrode even the most well protected metals.

Boats regularly require investigation on the hull to monitor the buildup of articles and other sea life but also check for any areas of corrosion. You could use your underwater drone to investigate different types of corrosive protection on underwater features whilst also providing a maintenance check on underwater tools such as propellers and rudders.

Fish spotting

The underwater environment is full of a lot of fish and sea life.

An underwater drone is the perfect way to see the variety of sea life without scaring them away. Using an underwater drone you are able to become part of the natural aquatic environment. This means that you are less likely to scare the fish and change their behaviour. You will be able to get up close and personal with a number of fish species and also inspect coral and other stationery objects.

A great project idea is to monitor different species of fish throughout the time of the day or over a few weeks. This will give you an opportunity to watch the migration and behavioural patterns of variety of different species. Reporting on this with high definition photos of the fish will help your project stand out.

3D mapping drones

There are a variety of extra cameras that can provide increased capability to drone technology. Volumetric analysis and high altitude asset inspection is capable by using lidar and other 3D cloud mapping additions.

Lidar stands for light detection and ranging. It is a survey method which measures the distance to a target by eliminating that target with a pulsed laser. It measures the reflected pulses with a sensor and creates a 3D cloud of data points which represent the 3D environment in which it is flying.

Kind of think of it like sonar on a submarine but with light.

Lidar is a fantastic and affordable technology which means that not only are you able to capture 3D representations of the construction site but, with the addition of the data from the camera it can produce real colour representations of the construction site.

Because of the increased resolution you get with lidar it can be used for stockpile measurement, topographical mapping, tracking resources, and also measuring the full 3D environment of overhanging objects such as underground mining and the underside of bridges or caves. It truly is a powerful addition to nearly every construction site.

Lidar can also be used to keep the drone safer than the on-board sensors allow. Lidar can create a quick 3D environment and therefore create a protection bubble around itself by knowing exactly where everything is in the environment. This is a similar technology that self-driving cars used to keep themselves safe while on the roads.

Volumetric

The 3D information collected from lidar can be used to determine the volume of a given stockpile. You may be able to use your drone to determine the size of different objects and the volume that they take up.

This information will allow you to estimate the amount of coal in a stockpile, will also allow you to measure the size of mountains and other huge features simply by taking a volumetric measurement.

Doing a volumetric study over a long period of time will enable you to measure the change in size and usage of certain stockpiles which makes the perfect subject for a drone based project.

IR drones

Adding an infrared camera securely to a drone is no harder than simply sticking on a go pro Mount (or other Mount) and flying away.

You have to make sure that the camera is secured solidly onto the main body of the drone and that it has got no potential to come into contact with the propellers or interfere with the stability of the flight in any other way.

This often means purchasing a camera which has been specifically designed to fit the drone that you currently have.

There are a number of drone based project ideas which utilise infrared cameras to provide data for optimisation of thermal insulation as well as using the infrared capabilities for crop monitoring.

Heat leaking

You are able to use infrared cameras to measure the amount of heat that is leaking out of a roof. If you have an infrared camera, you would be able to fly around in your neighbourhood and find the least efficient houses in terms of their thermal insulation.

The house would stick out like a sore thumb simply because of the bright signal in the thermal imaging camera.

Solar panel inspections

You are also able to monitor the effectiveness of solar panels by simply looking at them with an infrared camera. Any hotspots in the electronics can signal a potential failure point and will also give you the ability to measure the temperature that the solar panels get to in the middle of the day. This will almost certainly be a fun activity and a perfect idea for a drone project.

Crop monitoring

The infrared cameras can also be used to monitor crops. Plants look very different under infrared light and using an infrared camera can highlight areas of the crop that are not as healthy as other parts of the crop.

Search and rescue

The great thing about using an infrared camera is that any hot object quickly stands out in the camera. You can use an infrared camera to quickly identify people who may be lost in cold environments simply because their body heat is able to be picked up and provides a high contrast against the background.

A simple project idea is to use an infrared camera attached to a drone to spot people and measure how much quicker the rescue is using an infrared camera.

Participate in studies

You can also use drones to participate in studies.

Drones are used in scientific research for a variety of reasons. Interestingly, drone regulations are constantly changing and because science moves so slowly sometimes the grant applications can be completely out-of-date which means they can no longer fly their drones.

Virginia Tech’s David G. Schmale III told C&en:

“You’d be surprised how many grant proposals I’ve seen where the researchers don’t have the legal means to do the experiments,”

— Virginia Tech’s David G. Schmale III

This is where you could help!

By being a drone owner who has all of the appropriate licenses you may be able to help scientists and researchers capture images and footage of certain environmental protection areas and collect data on other environments which are hard to get to by foot.

Reach out to some of your local universities who you know do environmental monitoring and ask if they need a drone pilot to help collect data for their studies.

This will almost always not be a paid opportunity but research always relies on enthusiastic volunteers to collect data and drive the research mission forward.

You can help scientists by doing a range of different things such as:

  • environmental monitoring
  • capturing samples from sea life
  • livestock monitoring
  • volumetric analysis
  • longitudinal change studies
  • bushfire regeneration
  • drought monitoring
  • and much more…

If you want to know how you can be a help reach out to your local university and I’m sure that they are to give you a lot more information about who is doing what.

Building drones / Hacking Drones

If you want to build or hack drones there are some incredible projects that people are building and creating.

Arduino / Programming

One project idea is to use your programming skills to create a drone which can fly autonomously around an obstacle course.

There are plenty of kits that enable you to build a drone and if you want to find out exactly how to build a drone you should check out my other article – is it cheaper to buy or build a drone – click here to be taken to article.

Kite Camera

One of the easiest projects to start with is using the camera component of the drone to capture footage and photos from a Kite.

If your drone is small enough – like a pocket drone – you will not need to do anything other than strapped the drone to a kite and, as long as the wind is strong enough – your drone will be taken up into the air.

If your drone is a little bit heavier you may need to strip back the components to the camera and a light lithium polymer battery. With a little bit of soldering and electronics knowledge you will be able to create a custom unit to send up into the sky on a kite.

Here is a YouTube video where people were able to do exactly that:

Sending your drone camera up into the sky, weight is meant to be, can be a very rewarding experience for everyone involved.

Hovercraft

Drones fly because they displace a lot of air. If one of the propellers on your drone is not working it is unable to fly because of the imbalance of forces. However, that doesn’t mean that the other propellers can’t be put to good use.

In this YouTube video, below, you can discover how to turn a broken drone into a hovercraft. The team at Make Science Fun have been able to turn a common inexpensive drone into a hovercraft which is fun to drive on flat surfaces such as a sports court.

For a full rundown on how they do this you can watch this YouTube video:

With an old donut container, some bamboo skewers, a little bit of garbage bag, and some creative gluing the team is able to turn a gadget destined for the bin into an exciting new toy.

Spy/CCTV Camera

The camera is an incredible component of the drone. Depending on the type of drone you have it can be up to 4K resolution which means that this is perfect for turning into a spy cam or a CCTV camera for your home.

By extracting the camera and gimbal module from the drone you may be able to get up to a USB cord and allow you to record and watch the first person view camera stream on your mobile device – just like you would during your flight.

By connecting to a lithium polymer battery – or a USB power source – you may be able to fashion yourself a very crude and rudimentary camera.

In this YouTube video, they were able to run a drone camera simply by connecting to the battery.

Summary

In this article, we have gone over some of the best drone based project ideas that you can do with a drone.

There are a ton more project ideas which utilise a drone and in this article we have only covered a very small portion of them.

Ultimately, your project should inspire you and create a sense of inquisitiveness which will encourage you to go and find out the answer. I hope that this article has helped inspire and influence your project.

The Author

Dr Andrew Stapleton is a writer and YouTuber with a PhD in science. He has written and/or produced videos for Science Alert, COSMOS magazine, and Australia's Science Channel among others. Andy started droneflyingpro.com to share his love and the research of all things drone! He has been a drone pilot for many years and has flown many types of drone. His favorite is still the DJI Mavic Air for the portability and functionality packed into a small and portable drone!