Drones and other AI are becoming essential to the modern way of life. As of today, they have applications in logistics, law enforcement, real estate, photography, and many other industries.
For many of us, robotics and artificial intelligence is something of a Pandora’s box. Despite everything they do for us, how they function is a mystery to some.
Have you ever wondered how do drones work? How do they navigate their environment without colliding? Read on to learn more about drones and UAV technologies.
The Science of Drones
Many people buy and use drones as a hobby. Others use them for work or to create art. There are many great examples of drone photography to give the viewer an unprecedented perspective of otherwise familiar things.
It’s amazing that just about anyone can buy a drone, learn to use it, take some killer selfies, and post them without breaking a sweat.
However, the science behind even simple drones is incredible. Let’s takes some time to learn more about these awesome machines.
How Do Drones Work?
One hundred years ago, people predicted that we would be using flying cars to get to work.
We might not have gotten there quite yet, but at least self-flying vehicles are a thing, which is nice. In a way, drones and other UAVs represent the pinnacles of technology.
They combine automotive engineering, flight, robotics, and other technologies into one package. And you can get one for yourself for just a few hundred dollars. Here is what makes them tick.
Of course, drones need an energy source to power their engines and computers. There are several ways to do this.
Most drones rely on batteries. This is a simple and relatively cheap fuel source. However, they will need to be recharged or replaced regularly.
Most recreational and commercial drones use lithium-polymer batteries (LiPos). You will have to plan the voyage carefully because the battery only lasts 20 minutes or so.
Drones can be outfitted with solar cells that trap energy from the sun to power the engine and charge the battery. Of course, the sun has to be out to charge the battery but surplus energy is stored and can be used in cloudy weather or at night.
Other energy sources can include traditional fuel-powered combustion engines and hydrogen fuel cells. Either one provides several times the amount of flight time and is more powerful.
With increased power and inflammable components, comes an increased risk of an accident. These shouldn’t be treated as toys.
Much like a helicopter, standard commercial drones use a system of rotors for movement and control. The main rotors work like a fan that pushes down the air, creating an antagonistic push upwards.
Once these forces are greater than gravity plus the weight of the drone, you get vertical liftoff.
In order to change direction, the drone needs to create angular momentum. This is achieved through differences in speed among the rotors spinning in different directions. To get the drone to move forward, decrease the speed of the front rotors relative to the rear ones.
Depending on the model and configuration of the drone, they rely on different degrees of autonomy.
Some are completely remote-controlled recreational models, such as the ones used in drone racing. Here, the pilots need to be in full control.
There are also sophisticated drones that are capable of navigating and completing other functions on their own.
Drone Camera Control
Many drones come equipped with digital cameras. These can be used for surveillance or general photography.
Some can be controlled to adjust the angle of the shot.
UAV Collision Avoidance Technology
The most important aspect of any flight mission is safety.
Generally, you aren’t allowed to fly any commercial drone faster than 100 mph, which is faster than you can go in a $180 drone anyways. However, you don’t need to be going that fast to cause an accident.
Also, some drones are capable of traveling upwards of 300 mph. They depend on collision avoidance technology but how does this work?
Advanced drones often come equipped with GPS, as do our phones and new automobiles.
The Global Positioning System (GPS) is a satellite-based navigation system maintained by the U.S. Air Force.
GPS satellites send signals that are received by different kinds of devices. The time it takes for the signal to arrive is measured. Once four or more satellites send their signals, the location of the device can be calculated using geometry.
2. Sensing and Avoidance
Drones use sensing and avoidance (S&A) technology to avoid threats. This is done by determining the location, speed, and direction of the drone relative to that of possible obstacles.
Drones may use sonar, radar, cameras, and other devices to detect the location of possible threats.
3. Path Planning
Once the position and path of obstacles are determined, the drone’s computer has to decide which is the safest path to take.
The computer can predict which pathway has the lowest chance of creating a collision depending on the environment.
4. Careful Adjustments
Once the plan is made, it is time to execute.
Using the maneuvers described earlier, a sequence of adjustments is performed that ensure the drone takes the desired path.
5. Autonomous Mental Development
Autonomous mental development (AMD) is an innovative technology designed to mimic the human learning process.
AI with AMD is constantly recording and analyzing data. This data is used to evaluate the threats faced and the responses made by the drone.
The idea is that the drone will learn to be more efficient with its planning and movements. This is a relatively new field but the possibilities are fascinating.
The Future of Drone Technology
Despite the fact that self-flying vehicles that can evaluate potential danger and learn from them, we tend to take technology for granted. A curious mind, however, is currently wondering.
So, how do drones work? They depend on imagining technology and computers that solve complex equations. The modern drone wasn’t invented in a day.
Are you as fascinated by drones as we are? We have a whole blog dedicated to all things drone-related. Check out this article to learn more about the basics of drones and their importance in our world.