Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are one of the most potential devices that have multiple uses in the near future. As the Drone/ UAV Technology develops, they will also become more cheaper, complex and multifunctional. It is for sure that they will become one of the most commonly seen devices in future. This post will discuss what are Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), its history, types, components, works, applications, advantages and disadvantages.
What are Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are flying robotic machines that can be controlled remotely from a location without the need for the person to move with it. The control is possible through devices such as the transmitters, receivers and sensors.
Fig. 1 – Introduction to Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
It can fly at great heights and also carry considerable weight along with it. A drone typically has a lot of uses ranging from in-air photography, surveillance, in the agricultural field to spray water, pesticides and survey of the fields for any leakages in the water connections and more.
Today, it is possible to fly and control these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles with just a smartphone too. However, licenses are mandatory to fly them. The government strictly regulates the heights in which they can be flown, in which places it can fly and what purposes it can be used for.
History of Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicles have been around us for centuries. The idea of drones was first conceived for the use by Military during war. The first documented use of a Drone/ UAV is of 1849 when Austrians attacked the city of Venice using unmanned Air Balloons loaded with explosives. Then in 1915, they were used by British military to take aerial photographs of German movements in the are during Battle of Neuve Chapelle.
Later, United States came with ‘Kettering Bug’ in 1918 that was designed to drop bombs on targets. Then came Queen Bee and Curtiss N2C-2 in thirties, which were better than its predecessors. In 1941 during WW II, Reginald Denny from US made the first radio controlled aircraft called Radioplane OQ-2. It was the first drone to be mass produced ever. Further, in 1964, US created the Lightening Bug for secret surveillance during cold war. In 1973, Israel made a game changer entry in drone field with Mastiv UAV and IAA scout.
Fig. 2 – History of Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
During its war with Syria, Israel introduced Unmanned Aerial Vehicles into active war field to destroy many Syrian aircrafts with minimal loss. Until now, UAVs were considered unreliable. However, Israel dramatic win changed this perception forever. Very soon, US and Israel created RQ2 Pioneer in 1986, as a joint venture with an aim to design less expensive and effective drones. RQ2 Pioneer was a medium sized reconnaissance aircraft.
In 2001, the U.S introduced a new generation predator drone that was packed with state of the art surveillance equipment. In 2003, the UAVs paved its way in construction and ‘Search & Rescue’ field and was no longer limited to military use only. They, post introduction to civil world, have evolved multi-fold thereafter.
Fig. 3 – Use of Drones for Providing Internet by Facebook
In 2014, Amazon announced its plan to use drone technology in product delivery known as ‘Prime Air’ so that parcels can be delivered by air with ease. One more interesting concept is presented by Facebook as they are thinking to develop some giant Unmanned Aerial Vehicles that can carry signal to remote locations for direct internet access.
Types of Drones/ UAVs
Based on the type of aerial platform used, there are 4 major types of UAVs.
- Multi Rotor Drone
- Fixed Wing Drone
- Single Rotor Drone
- Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOL
Fig. 4 – Types of Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Multi Rotor Drone
Multi Rotor Drone uses multiple propellers to navigate and fly. They are utilized for common uses such as photography and video surveillance. They are the most common of all UAVs.
They can be further classified in four most popular categories based on the number of propellers being used. They are:
- Tricopter – Three Propeller Drones
- Quadcopter – Four Propeller Drones
- Hexacopter – Six Propeller Drones
- Octocopter – Eight Propeller Drones
Fixed Wing Drones
Fixed Wing drones have wings in place of propellers just like an airplane. They cannot hover at one place. They fly on the set course till their energy source is functional.
Single Rotor Drones
As the name suggests, a Single rotor drone has only one rotor and a small tail to control it direction. They resemble more like a helicopter and are very energy efficient.
Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOL
VTOL stands for Vertical take Off & Landing. Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOLs uses propeller(s) to lift off and wings for gliding.
Main Components of Drones/ UAVs (Quadcopter)
There are multiple designs used for drones, the most popular is the four-wing structure called Quadcopter. The main components of a Quadcopter are:
- Propellers/ Wings
- DC motors
- Flight Controller
- Electronic Speed Controllers
- Landing Gear
- GPS Module
Fig. 5 – Main Components of Drones/ Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
1. Propellers/ Wings
The Drones/ UAVs use either propellers/ wings or both (depending on the availability) to direct them. Propeller driven Drones have two types of propellers onboard for direction and thrust. These are
- Standard Propellers
- Pusher Propellers
These are located in the front of Quadcopter. These propellers provide direction to the Drone.
These are located in the back of Quadcopter. These propellers provide forward and backward thrust to the Drone.
This is the main body of Quadcopter which provides the housing facility to all other components.
3. Flight Controller
The flight controller is usually referred to as the brain of the drone. The flight controller controls the power supply to the electronic speed controller. It is also used to detect orientation changes in the drone. It controls the motors and ensures that the drone is in air.
4. Electronic Speed Controller
Electronic speed controllers (ESC) are the electronic circuits that regulate the speed of the DC motors. It also provides dynamic braking and reversing options.
5. DC Motors
To ensure that the drone is airborne for a good amount of time, we need high torque motors. The high torque also helps to change the speed of the propellers. Brushless DC motors are preferred as they are lighter than the brushed ones.
6. Landing Gear
Landing gears are not required for small drones. However, bigger drones need a landing gear to avoid any damage while landing. The requirement of landing gear varies with functionality of the drone. For example – Delivery drones which carry parcels require a spacious landing gear as they need space to hold the items.
The transmitter send signals from controller to the drone to generate command of direction and thrust.
The receiver receives the signals sent by the transmitter and passes it to Flight Controller PCB.
9. GPS Module
The GPS module provides the navigational data (longitude, latitude and elevation) to the Controller. This module assists the controller in recognizing the taken path and safely return to the initial point in case of lost connection.
It provides power to the drone. Generally, rechargeable battery is used in drone.
There is normally an attached inbuilt camera with drones. If the drone is not provided with inbuilt camera, then it will have a provision of detachable camera.
How Drones/ UAVs Work
When the controller provide the lift off instruction to the receiver of drone, it forwards it to the Flight Controller Board, which in turn actuates the propeller. The propellers provide the lift off thrust and the drone becomes airborne. It is these propellers, which provide the direction as well as speed to the drone.
Fig. 6 – How Drones/ UAVs Work
The Drones have a complex multi propeller system that assists in reduction of failures. The propellers work in group and even if any one of them fails, the drone is capable to get support form its available propellers and navigate/ land safely. The GPS module helps the drone to identify its travelled path and get real time data such as location, speed and elevation.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs
They have a variety of functionalities in different industries. A few of the most popular industries that use them are:
- Space Research
- Product Delivery
- Search and Rescue
- Internet Carrier
Fig. 7 – Applications of Drones/ UAVs
Applications of Drones/ UAVs in Military
The first drones were used during wars to drop bombs without the requirement of a pilot to carry them into the enemy zone. It is also used for surveillance, reconnaissance, aerial photography, specific target tracking, and counter air threats. It reduces the risk factor involved during such missions due to minimal involvement of human personnel.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs in Space Research
The United States and the United Kingdom have been the pioneers in the use of drones for space research. NASA’s most popular drone X-37B has made multiple visits to space for a number of classified missions. Following NASA’s route, other space agencies from across the globe are also using drones for their space researches.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs in Food and Product Delivery
The food and product delivery industry is one of the most booming sectors today. The most challenging factor that is considered in this industry is the problem of delivering food through roads and delivery agents. Drones can be a direct profit-making solution for this. In fact, a few countries have started using this technology.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs in Agriculture
One of the most strenuous jobs in the world is agriculture. Growing crops in the vast lands is a tedious job without a doubt. If this could be done in a manner with reduced human efforts, it is one of the best things that can be explored in this century. Drones have become really popular in this sector. A few of the functions for which drones are used are spraying water, pesticides, and doing video surveillance in the vast field.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs in Search & Rescue (SAR)
Drones is very useful in Search & Rescue (SAR) operations as they can even go in areas with difficult access. They can also patrol larger areas as compared to an individual. Further, with the addition of thermal imaging devices on it, the identification of people in distress is much more faster and reliable.
Applications of Drones/ UAVs as Internet Carriers
As stated earlier, Google and Facebook are already working on concept of some giant drones that can carry signal to remote locations for direct internet access.
Advantages of Drones/ UAVs
The advantages of Drones/ UAVs includes:
- Quality air Imaging.
- Accessibility to hard to reach areas.
- Reduced human effort and risks.
- Need minimal launch time.
- Precise Operation.
- Saves time.
Disadvantages of Drones/ UAVs
The disadvantages of Drones/ UAVs includes:
- Privacy becomes vulnerable if wrongly used.
- Safety of people/ equipment depends on perator skills
- Laws for Drones are not so specific yet. Still Evolving.
- Shorter Lifespan
- Can be easily hacked