Remote-controlled drones are essentially aerial vehicles (UAV) that combine the premise of having some sort of AI for flight guidance, while at the same time relying on direct control assumed by the controller. There are no compulsory standards for drones. They have a variety of uses, most of which are now integral to modern society. Today, though, they’re most commonly associated with military operations in deeply compromised territories, usually deep reconnaissance flight, aerial photography and videography for professional. Drones, other than hobby and professionally utilized models, are mainly employed by the military. Defense forces make use of them to do surveillance tasks in high-risk locations. Within the past few years, however, they have exploded in popularity as toys for hobbyists and enthusiasts of almost all ages. They are typically built-in a number of sizes and shapes, depending on their use.
Today’s market for drones is growing exponentially. There is almost certainly a drone for anyone, depending on their needs and budget. Consumer-available drones can range from as cheap as $30 and may fit in the palm of your hand, to those as expensive as $2,000 or even higher and which measure as much as a regular sized backpack. Many commercial applications from agriculture to real estate surveying and even search and rescue have driven newer and more versatile designs into the market.
There is some confusion on the difference between drones and general UAVs. UAVs are the general term, and they include in their subsets the drone, which uses an on-board computer for completely unmanned flight even without a radio controller. When there is absence of AI, however, the UAV is no longer a drone and just becomes a remote-controlled aircraft.
Brief history of unmanned flight and drones
The earliest innovations in remote-controlled aircrafts started with development of aerial targets in the 1900s and provided practice targets for military personnel. Then in 1918, inventor Archibald Low developed a project called Aerial Target, or AT, during The Great War. Its purpose was remotely control an aircraft as a guiding missile against the Germans. The misnomer of being named as a target helped cover up its true intentions as a secret. In the end though, it was not as successful, but it effectively started toward the path of developing UAVs in the future.
The first successful scaled remote-piloted aircraft was developed by engineer and film star Richard Denny in 1935. Since then, it has become emergent in almost every major conflict known to man, with most of the implications toward its being developed as a weapon. It was seen as a huge deterrent of human casualty since the user is far away from the conflict itself.
Since then, advancing modern trends saw the rise of better and faster technology with regards to UAVs and drones. Today, it plays an important role in almost every aspect of our lives, especially with regard to military ventures. It even aroused controversies surrounding individual rights when surveillance was employed. Whatever implications will not change the fact that modern drones and UAVs will be part of the norm for many years to come.
Implications and uses
The uses of remote-controlled drones are not only limited to the field of warfare and covert operations. The growing popularity of these aircraft managed to find its way into the realm of normal citizens who found it to be an interesting hobby to fly and manage these RC drones. This rise saw the need and eventual growth of the consumer available RC drone market, which includes, but is not limited to, hobbyists, enthusiasts, and either amateur or professional aerial photographers and videographers.
The vast reach of UAVs and drones also delves into aerial surveys, search and rescue operations, wildlife watching, supply deliveries, land surveying, border patrol protection, crowd monitoring, journalism, law enforcement, and very recently, even filmmaking.
The most common use seen today is clear in the models that are marketed for consumers: A large part of them have cameras capable of video recording or still photography; the largest realm of UAVs and drones is the professional aerial videography and photography market. They range anywhere between $100 to a few thousand dollars, in varying ranges of quality and performance.
We see a wide variety of drone models today that have a wide range of uses, with their implications being nearly endless in almost all aspects of our lives. There are still a few areas where manned flight will always be better than unmanned, but for the rest of the cases, only time will tell what the future holds for us in terms of UAVs and remote-controlled drones.
Remote-controlled drones for the hobbyist and the professional
As stated, with a large part of the drone manufacturing industry leaning towards those who consider it a hobby, and aerial photography and videography enthusiasts, it’s actually great to know what kinds of drones are available for consumers in order for them to make informed choices on what to buy.
- Starter Drones (Low-end)—Perfect for the beginner looking to take his/her first steps in flying drones. These are usually the cheapest ones you can buy, so even though all of them are simple enough to operate, a lot may still go wrong in choosing what’s good, especially since the market is very saturated. Always be on the lookout for quality if you’re in this range; even for its price, you should know that starter drones should also be sturdy and of good quality.
- Mid-Range Drones—Suited for a) beginners who have decided to take their hobby up a notch and b) beginners who like a little more meat on the bone, so to speak. This range is perfect for anyone who thinks that it’s not worth investing in the cheapest drone you can find no matter what the quality says, and for those who are trying to upgrade their love for the hobby by purchasing better and more well-equipped drones.
- High-End Drones—The crème de la crème of the commercial remote-controlled drone industry. These models can go upwards from $1,000, so be sure that you are properly investing money in it. This is more suited for people who have found aerial videography or photography interesting, as the cameras mounted on these drones are the best you will ever find on any drone. This is also great for the serious hobbyist or enthusiast who wants to go higher and farther on his/her drone than ever before.
Drones are commonly categorized by way of sizes
The small kinds normally range from the size of a bigger insect to around 50 centimeters. The tiniest ones designated mini or micro/nano drones. The latter are usually built resembling insects, complete with equally tiny wings. The insect designs are actually the most popular among drone designs of this size.
Due to their tiny sizes and light weight, these drones are perfect for spy operations and biological combat. Users can select between models with wings or rotors depending on its use. Because it includes wings, this kind of drone is highly capable of being controlled to land on the tiniest of spaces.
Drones that are a tad larger than the micro sized fit into the small drone category. They are usually bigger than 50 centimeters and not more than about 2 meters. A majority of small drones are built with static wings, but there are several models which are inspired by rotary wings. Because of their smaller size and absence of power, they are flung high into the air manually, and then operated. An example of a small drone is the Turkish Bayraktar.
These are drones that are a bit larger and heavier than smaller drones, but still tinier than standard aircraft. They cannot be transported by only one person due to their size and weight. They are bigger and have a normal wingspan of 5 to 10 meters feature enough power to bear a cargo of up to 200 kilograms. They are also built with static wings. One of the best known medium drones is the Watchkeeper from the UK.
These are almost the same size as standard smaller aircraft used in most military services, built for combat use in locations where transporting jets with human pilots is a danger issue. They are also as used spy drones in active locations.
Drones are also grouped into other categories. They are categorized by way of their performance and purpose. Each and every drone features a variety of range and flying capabilities in a selection of air settings. By employing these aspects they are grouped into the following:
These are the drones that are typically used as toys or bought as part of a drone collection by hobbyists. They feature a range of around 5 kilometers and they usually allow a fly time of about 20 to 45 minutes before dying out. They are battery operated and they look like model flying machines.
Close range drones have a higher fly time and range; they are managed up to 50 kilometers. They also feature a formidable battery, thus they are capable of flying for 1 to 6 hours. Due to their higher level of range and fly time, they are normally employed by the military in performing surveillance tasks.
Drones of this kind run better and are more beneficial for military services. They usually feature a range that reaches up to 150 kilometers and are capable of 8 to 12 hours of fly time, twice as large as that of close-range models. They are mainly used for recon and spying missions.
Mid-range drones are on a higher level than those types mentioned above. They are high-speed models and are capable of 650 kilometers of range. They are mainly used for surveillance missions, but they are also highly capable of performing more crucial tasks like accumulating weather-related information. Due to its much higher fly time and range, they are ideal for gathering such information.
They are superior to most drones and have a flight time of up to 36 hours. They can reach 30,000 feet above sea level thus making them perfect for risky surveillance missions.
Specially designed drones
Due to the influx of new technologies, more specially designed drones have come up. The US Army made known last year that they are developing a new helicopter-type drone featuring 1.8 giga-pixel color cameras. This model drone promises to present a significant ability to track down activities on land. The A160 Hummingbird drone, which is a model built with sensors, is now being used in Afghanistan.
These drones make the most out of the Autonomous Real-time Ground Ubiquitous Surveillance Imaging System to offer real-time video streams. They are capable of providing streams of 10 frames per second. The military has also shared that the unit was sufficient enough to follow vehicles and people from altitudes over 20,000 feet all over 65 square miles.
The DARPA, or US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, is also getting together with the United Kingdom’s defense servicer, BAE Systems, to create and progress more high-tech innovations of the Argus-IS sensor that will provide night vision for low-light conditions. The infrared imaging sensors would be sufficiently keen to keep track of people at night.
Many drones are still being developed as of today to make surveillance and other high-risk missions easier and faster. When it comes to toy and hobby versions though, you can be sure that there are also manufacturers out there who are always trying to come up with even more advanced models for all of us to enjoy.
Drones and Quadcopter Glossary
With the increasing presence of drones, quadcopters, and other small, unmanned aircraft in the world, both for professional and personal use, it is important to know the jargon around these aircraft. Unmanned aircraft may be seen in many situations, from military reconnaissance, police surveillance, firefighting investigation, inspecting pipelines and power lines, search and rescue missions, and increasingly as a recreational past time for civilians and for commercial purposes.
Here are some of the most common terms necessary for understanding relevant terminology.
“Drone” is the common term used to describe unmanned aerial vehicles, or UAVs. These cover many different kinds of unmanned aircraft or various sizes, used for various reasons, from military aircrafts to hobbyists taking amateur photography for their personal blog. UAVs are also known as remotely piloted aircraft, or RPA. These aircraft use a system of electronic control and electronic sensory processes to help stabilize the craft while it is in flight.
Unmanned aerial system, or UAS, indicates not only the aircraft itself but the system that is required for the smooth running of the craft.
FPV, or first person view, is used to describe the viewpoint that comes with a camera on your UAV. The name comes because the image from the camera is streamed in real time to a display that the pilot can watch. The display can be on a computer screen, but there are some technologies that stream the image straight to a pair of goggles to optimize the view of the pilot. This allows the pilot to see the same thing that the UAV is “seeing” and make adjustments to its flight as necessary. There is some argument that this even means that a seasoned pilot can let the UAV leave their line of sight, although this is debatable and caution should always be used. It also allows for more finely tuned control of the angle filmed.
A rotorcraft is an aerial vehicle that gets its lift and propulsion from rotor blades, and not the fixed wings found on an airplane. When a rotorcraft has two or more rotors providing propulsion it is known as a multirotor aircraft.
A quadcopter is a UAV rotorcraft that is also known as a quadrotor helicopter. These aircraft are made of a more simple design than similar sized remote helicopter, and are propelled by four rotors rather than two.
A hexacopter is a multirotor aircraft that uses six rotors for flight.
An octocopter uses eight rotors to achieve liftoff and propulsion.
LOS is shorthand for line of sight, which is an important rule in flying an UAV; if the aircraft is not in your sight, then it is susceptible to loss of control resulting in personal or property damage.
Vertical takeoff and landing is known as VTOL, and refers to the ability of an aircraft to make vertical takeoffs and landings, rather than a horizontal ascent or descent that can be seen in fixed wing planes.