Thursday, 20 December 2018

Drones: The sky is not the limit

Drones have captured public imagination big-time, especially of the youth. It is a flying robot that can be remotely controlled or fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems, working in conjunction with onboard sensors and GPS.

In the recent past, UAVs were most often associated with the military, where they were used initially for anti-aircraft target practice, intelligence gathering and as weapons platforms. Drones are also used in a wide range of civilian roles ranging from search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting, to personal drones and business drone-based photography, as well as videography, agriculture and even delivery services.

The history

The first generally used drone appeared in 1935 fitted with a radio and servo-operated controls in the back seat. The plane could be conventionally piloted from the front seat, but generally, it flew unmanned and was shot at by artillery gunners in training.
Widespread drone use began in 2006 when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency introduced UAVs to monitor the U.S. and Mexico border. In late 2012, a private entity, 3D Robotics, Inc. (3DR) started specializing in personal drones, that now markets UAVs to aerial photography and film companies, construction, utilities and telecom businesses, and public safety companies, among others.

In late 2013, Amazon announced a plan to use commercial drones for delivery activities. However, in July 2016, a startup Flirtey beat Amazon by successfully delivering a package to a resident in the USA via a commercial drone. Other companies have since followed suit.

Commercial and enterprise drone applications

The use of drones outside the military has grown tremendously over the past decade. Beyond surveillance and delivery applications, UAVs are used in drone journalism, search and rescue, disaster response, asset protection, wildlife monitoring, firefighting, communications relay, healthcare and agriculture.

The integration of drones and the Internet of things (IoT) technology has created numerous enterprise use cases. Drones working with on-ground IoT sensor networks can help agricultural companies monitor land and crops; energy companies survey power lines and operational equipment, and insurance companies monitor properties for claims and policies.

Types of drones

Drone platforms have two main types: rotor, including single-rotor or multi-rotor (such as tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters and octocoptors), or fixed-wing, which include the hybrid VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing) drones that don't require runways.

It can be equipped with a number of sensors, including distance sensors (ultrasonic, laser, lidar), time-of-flight sensors, chemical sensors, and stabilization and orientation sensors, among others.

Reception and regulations

The rapid adoption of drones over the past decade has sparked a number of privacy, security and safety complaints and concerns. From a privacy standpoint, voyeurs and paparazzi have used drones to obtain images of individuals in their homes or other locations once assumed to be private. Drones have also been deployed in areas deemed potentially unsafe, such as urban areas and near airports.

Growth in commercial and personal drones has also created safety concerns, namely midair collisions and loss of drone control. Specific concerns about drones flying too close to commercial aircraft have prompted calls for regulation.

While many countries including India have established UAV regulations, others have not. As drone usage grows in popularity, laws are continually changing. Before using a drone commercially or personally, it is critical to check the laws.

The future 

Predictions for the drone market are both aggressive and optimistic. #PricewaterhouseCoopers has valued the drone-based businesses service market at more than $127 billion, with the top industries being infrastructure at $45.2 billion, agriculture at $32.5 billion and transportation at $13.0 billion.