Drone technology and its promising future
In the present it is impossible to outline the heights technology have aided us reach, there can hardly be a passing day when we are not wowed by one technology powered invention or the other. Most of these technological innovations are not all promising but a whole lot of them shoot out as what will have the brightest of futures. One technology I can stick out my neck for that in the coming years it will surely have covered ground is Drone Technology.
Drones often known as Unnamed Arial Vehicles (UAVs) are aircraft systems, they are flying robots that be remotely controlled or can be flown using imbedded software control system. in layman’s wordings it’s easier to say ithat any powered aircraft with no humans onboard is a drone. There are many subcategories, and they range from insect-size to passenger jet-size, but as long as an aircraft is powered and unmanned, it’s a drone by definition.
Any aircraft that has a propulsion system (e.g., battery, fuel… just no gliders) and does not carry humans is considered a drone, though the FAA often uses the terminology “UAS” which means an unmanned aerial system, and refers to the flying object, the pilot on the ground, and the means of communication between the two.
Because drones can be controlled remotely and can be flown at varying distances and heights, they make perfect candidates to take on some of the toughest jobs in the world. They can be found assisting in a search for survivors after a hurricane, giving law enforcement and military an eye-in-the-sky during terrorist situations and advancing scientific research in some of the most extreme climates on the planet. Drones have even made their way into our homes and serve as entertainment for hobbyists and a vital tool for photographers.
Drones go back to 1849 Italy, when Venice was fighting for its independence from Austria. Austrian soldiers attacked Venice with hot-air, hydrogen- or helium-filled balloons equipped with bombs.
The first pilotless radio-controlled aircraft was used in World War I. In 1918, the U.S. Army developed the experimental Kettering Bug, an unmanned "flying bomb" aircraft, which was never used in combat.
The first generally used drone appeared in 1935 as a full-size retooling of the de Havilland DH82B "Queen Bee" biplane. It was fitted with a radio and servomechanism-operated controls in the back seat. The plane could be conventionally piloted from the front seat, but generally it flew unmanned for artillery gunners in training to shoot.
UAV technology continued to be of interest to the military, but it was often unreliable and costly. After concerns about the shooting down of spy planes arose, the military revisited the topic of unmanned aerial vehicles. Military drones soon took on roles dropping leaflets and acting as spying decoys.
Functioning Of Drones
Drones have two basic functions: flight mode and navigation.
To fly, drones must have a power source, such as battery or fuel. They also have rotors, propellers and a frame. The frame of a drone is typically made of a lightweight, composite material to reduce weight and increase maneuverability.
Drones require a controller, which lets the operator use remote controls to launch, navigate and land the aircraft. Controllers communicate with the drone using radio waves, such as Wi-Fi.
Here are the major types of drones
1. Multi-Rotor Drones
Multi-rotor drones are the easiest and cheapest option for getting an ‘eye in the sky.’ They also offer greater control over position and framing, and hence they are perfect for aerial photography and surveillance. They are called multi-rotor because they have more than one motor, more commonly tricopters (3 rotors), quadcopters (4 rotors), hexacopters (6 rotors) and octocopters (8 rotors), among others. By far, quadcopters are the most popular multi-rotor drones.
- It provides better control of the aircraft during the flight.
- Due to its increased manoeuvrability, it can move up and down on the same vertical line, back to front, side to side and rotate in its own axis.
- It has the ability to fly much more closely to structures and buildings.
- The ability to take multiple payloads per flight increases its operational efficiency and reduces the time taken for inspections.
- Multi-rotor drones have limited endurance and speed, making them unsuitable for large scale aerial mapping, long-endurance monitoring and long-distance inspection such as pipelines, roads and power lines.
- They are fundamentally very inefficient and require a lot of energy just to fight gravity and keep them in the air.
- With the current battery technology, they are limited to around 20-30 minutes when carrying a lightweight camera payload. However, heavy-lift multi-rotors are capable of carrying more weight, but in exchange for much shorter flight times.
- Due to the need for fast and high-precision throttle changes to keep them stabilized, it isn’t practical to use a gas engine to power multi-rotors, so they are restricted to electric motors. So until a new power source comes along, we can only expect very small gains in flight time.
- Visual inspections
- Thermal reports
- Photography & Videography
- 3D scans
- Fixed-Wing Drones
A fixed-wing drone has one rigid wing that is designed to look and work like an aeroplane, providing the lift rather than vertical lift rotors. Hence, this drone type only needs the energy to move forward and not to hold itself in the air. This makes them energy-efficient.
Drone pilot flying a fixed wing drone in Australian outback.
- Fixed-wing drones cover longer distances, map much larger areas, and loiter for long times monitoring their point of interest. The average flight time is a couple of hours. But with a greater energy density of fuel (gas engine powered), many fixed-wing UAVs can stay aloft for 16 hours or more.
- This drone type can fly at a high altitude, carry more weight and are more forgiving in the air than other drone types.
- Fixed-wing drones can be expensive.
- Training is usually required to fly fixed-wing drones. The first time you launch a fixed-wing drone, you need to be confident in your abilities to control through the flight and back to a soft landing. A fixed-wing drone is always moving forward, and they move a lot quicker than a multi-rotor, and hence you might not get a chance to put it into a hover. In most cases, a launcher is needed to get a fixed-wing drone into the air.
- With fixed-wing, the flight is just the beginning. The hundreds and thousands of captured images have to be processed and stitched together into one big tiled image. There is a lot more to be done after this, including performing data analysis, such as the stockpile volume calculations, tree counts, overlaying other data onto the maps, and so on.
- Aerial Mapping
- Drone Surveying – Forestry/Environmental Drone Surveys, Pipeline UAV Surveys, UAV Coastal Surveys
- Single-Rotor Drones
Single-rotor drone types are strong and durable. They look similar to actual helicopters in structure and design. A single-rotor has just one rotor, which is like one big spinning wing, plus a tail rotor to control direction and stability.
- A single-rotor helicopter has the benefit of much greater efficiency over a multi-rotor, which increases if the drone is gas-powered for even longer endurance.
- A single-rotor helicopter allows for very long blades, which are more like a spinning wing than a propeller, giving great efficiency.
- If you need to hover with a heavy payload (e.g. an aerial LIDAR laser scanner) or have a mixture of hovering with long endurance or fast forward flight, then a single-rotor helicopter is really your best bet.
- They are built to be strong and durable.
- Single-rotor drone types are complex and expensive.
- They vibrate and aren’t as stable or forgiving in the event of a bad landing.
- They also require a lot of maintenance and care due to their mechanical complexity.
- The long, heavy spinning blades of a single rotor can be dangerous.
- Aerial LIDAR laser scan
- Drone surveying
- Carrying heavy payloads
4. Fixed-Wing Hybrid VTOL
Hybrid VTOL drone types merge the benefits of fixed-wing and rotor-based designs. This drone type has rotors attached to the fixed wings, allowing it to hover and take off and land vertically. This new category of hybrids are only a few on the market, but as technology advances, this option can be much more popular in the coming years. One example of fixed-wing hybrid VTOL is Amazon’s Prime Air delivery drone.
- The autopilot can do all the hard work of keeping the drone stable, leaving the human pilot the easier task of guiding it around the sky.
- Hybrid VTOL drones offer you the best of both worlds – fixed-wing & rotor-based designs.
- They are perfect at either hovering or forward flight.
- Only a handful of fixed-wing hybrid VTOLs are currently on the market
- The technology used in these drone types is still in the nascent stage.
- Drone Delivery
These days the use of drones have impacted almost all sectors uniquely and we cannot hastily exhaust some of its magnificent applications but here are just a few of them
- Aerial Photography
Beginners and seasoned professional pilots use advanced camera drone units for filming, aerial photography, site surveying, and 3D imaging. Quadcopters are well-equipped to hold heavy camera equipment to capture media coverage from unreachable locations. Drone cameras are used in wedding photography and move to tighter areas easily due to their small size.
Drones are highly used in the agricultural and farming fields. The drone technology help farmers save money and their crops by proper monitoring of irrigation systems and performance analysis.
Using drones, farmers get complete updated information about crops. They help to spray water, pesticides, and fertilizers to crops at appropriate times.
- Search and rescue
Drones are equipped with thermal sensors to locate the position of lost/missing persons. They are used to drop supplies at inaccessible locations as well as improve rescuer safety with remote assessments.
Drones fly securely low to the ground and can be leveraged in post-disaster-relief operations, monitoring of catastrophe and natural disasters, as well as in emergency communication network aid.
Drones and quadcopters are finding their way in the construction industry. The main purposes are structures and job site inspection, employee monitoring, security, surveying, and 2D and 3D data creation.
Frequent aerial monitoring could provide improved performance, increased efficiency, and significant advancements in the construction infrastructure. Drones offer accurate project estimates and manage job site surveillance.
- Shipping and Delivery
The innovative and advanced drone units are capable of carrying heavy payloads and utilized for shipping and delivery applications. It is used for enhanced safety and reliable delivery of products. People get instant doorstep services for the requested products.
Also, food delivery and local transport of the items are made through drones that significantly reduce human labor and speeds up delivery times.
- Fire Fighting
With the help of quads, fire outbreak situations can be curtailed. Drones access and monitor dangerous fires without the need of helicopter-based aerial surveillance. Thermal drones ensure public safety and see through smoke and dark to detect hotspots. Hence, it is always advisable to dispatch drones first at a fire outbreak to observe the situation.
- Science & Research
Drones are easy-to-use with advanced versatile and flexible features. It helps to plan and monitor flights in real-time as well as leverage georeferencing technologies. Compared to traditional aircraft, drones have reduced environmental impact and provide extremely quiet operations.
Drones are deployed in a variety of science and research applications such as identification of methane leaks, monitoring of pipeline installations, geophysical surveying, archaeological and meteorological research, glacier surveillance, iceberg monitoring, plant species identification, forestry management, and more.
In conclusion, there will be more to tell in the future about this awesome technology and the whole possibilities it may offer to mankind in this century. I’m certain that the future of drones pushes beyond the limits of technology.
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