Each day, drones make news, and we might be pondering getting one for ourselves to record some epic moments from above, whether it's a vacation or a wedding. Consumer drone markets are not the only reason drones are becoming so popular. Drones have also been used to monitor our power grids, water supplies, and telephone networks, creating a booming commercial drone market.
What does UAV stand for?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an unmanned aircraft that is powered, controllable, capable of carrying multiple mission equipment, performing multiple missions, and being reusable. On the other hand, UAV system emphasizes the UAV payload, control system (remote control, ground control station, data link, etc.) in addition to the UAV.
What technologies are used in drones?
The development of drones cannot be separated from the progress of related technologies. These technologies cover power systems, new energy sources, new materials, payloads, communications, navigation, interoperability, autonomy, confidentiality, sustainability, and high-performance computing.
For example, autonomous technologies can enable UAVs to accomplish assigned tasks in unknown environments without external command support. Solar technology applied to drones can make them float in fixed airspace for long periods of time, and Google is trying to use this feature to enable 5G network coverage. Advances in communications technology, on the other hand, allow cell phones to control drones.
The development of related technologies will have a profound impact on UAVs and on the directions in which these aircraft will proceed for the foreseeable future. Drone technology is continually evolving, lowering R&D costs, lifting industry participation thresholds, improving reliability and stability, and allowing drones to be industrialized in the civilian sector.
What are the applications of drones?
UAVs undoubtedly provide new ideas for solving problems and enrich operation methods spatially compared with traditional operation methods. The technology is currently being incorporated into traditional operations as a complement.
A wide range of possibilities lies ahead. At present, small and medium-sized UAVs, especially small multi-rotor UAV systems, have set off an upsurge of development worldwide. They are widely used in photography and entertainment, agricultural and forestry operations, border patrols, public security and anti-terrorism, geographic surveying and mapping, pipeline inspection and maintenance, and emergency rescue, fire control, law enforcement, etc. In the coming years, drone technology will mature and drones will offer more services.
Drones in agriculture
Agriculture is the largest and most mature market for the civilian use of drones. A report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) predicts that the use of drones in the civilian sector will bring nearly $100 billion to the U.S. over the next ten years, 90% of which will come from agriculture.
In January 2014, the United States Federal Aviation Administration officially approved drones for crop inspections. It was selected in the "Top Ten Most Breakthrough Technological Innovation Activities in 2015" by MIT Science and Technology Review. Agricultural drones topped the list.
In June 2015, Croplife Magazine selected the top five agricultural technologies with the fastest growth in application range from 2015 to 2018 - UAV technology, yield analysis technology, farmland mapping, variable rate processing sowing technology, and satellite aerial image technology. UAVs are considered to have the most considerable growth. In Japan, on average, one out of every three bowls of rice is grown by Yamaha drones.
The use of agricultural drones in China has only just begun but is rapidly growing. In 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture issued the "Opinions on Accelerating the Construction of a Modern Plant Protection System," proposing to encourage the development of unmanned aerial vehicles to prevent pests and diseases in areas where conditions permit.
The Department of Agriculture and the Department of Finance of Shandong and Henan Province allocate special funds to directly purchase agricultural drones for local plant protection stations, or provide subsidies for purchasing agricultural drones.
Agricultural drones are expected to replace existing plant protection machinery in large numbers. According to data from the China Commercial Industry Research Institute, the number of plant protection drones in China has grown rapidly in recent years. In 2018, the number of plant protection drones in China reached 31,500, while the number was only 695 in 2014.
Drones in aerial photography
UAVs are used most widely and most maturely for aerial photography in the civilian sector. Filming videos from drones expands the possibilities for video production. Small and lightweight, low-noise and energy-saving, efficient and mobile, and clear images are the outstanding features of aerial photography by drones. Aerial photography can be made much more affordable by allowing aircraft to operate in places with high altitudes, narrow streets, or dangerous environments.
A drone for aerial photography costs less than 1,500 USD while renting a manned aerial drone costs as much as a thousand dollars an hour. The cost advantage is significant. Drones were used for aerial photography during the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. The stuntmen flying on the roof in "Mission: Impossible", Jackie Chan driving in the mountains in "Zodiac", and the visible lava in the documentary are all filmed with drones.
Drones in power lines and oil and gas pipelines patrol
UAVs have a good market for power, oil, and gas pipeline inspections. Compared with manual inspection, it can improve efficiency and avoid the danger of fieldwork and greatly reduce the cost. Let's take the example of power inspection. A 100-kilometer inspection requires 20 inspectors per day, but an unmanned aerial vehicle only needs 3 to 4 hours.
China has a vast territory, with power grids and oil and gas pipelines covering the whole country, more than 500,000 kilometers of transmission lines above 110 kV, and more than 100,000 kilometers of oil and gas pipelines. As oil and gas pipelines and power grids grow, inspection workloads increase. The combination of drone inspection and traditional inspection has proven to be the most effective method of inspecting power lines and gas and oil pipelines.
Drones in delivery
In cities, 80% of deliveries weigh less than 2.5 kg, which can all be delivered by small drones. Amazon has been experimenting with drones in the logistics industry. Additionally, Google and several other startups are developing their own drone delivery services. The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is constantly adjusting regulations on drone use and has approved Flirtey's request for drone deliveries.
In China, Shunfeng Express is also experimenting with drone delivery. The delivery of goods by drones will become more common in the future. There may even be drones that carry passengers if drones improve safety and carrying capacity.
Drones in rescue
When a disaster strikes, drones can be used to monitor the area and find survivors. Whenever the roads are blocked, drones can swiftly deliver the medicines and food that the victims need. Once the passenger-carrying drone is mature, it can also transport rescuers to the scene or transfer victims to a safe location. These drones are useful for rescue operations in both natural and manmade disasters.