What is a drone and how do drones work is answered here in this easy to understand article. Drone technology is constantly evolving as new innovation and big investment are bringing more advanced drones to the market every few months. Below, we discuss UAV technology on the most popular drones on the market, which have all the latest drone technology. Most drones will have very similar systems incorporated. Unmanned aerial vehicle technology covers everything from the aerodynamics of the drone, materials in the manufacture of the physical UAV, to the circuit boards, chipset and software, which are the brains of the drone. One of the most popular drones on the market is the DJI Phantom 3. This drone was very popular with professional aerial cinematographers. While slightly old now, it uses plenty of advanced technology which is present in the very latest drones. This UAV is ideal to explain drone technology because it has everything in one package. It includes the UAV, gimbal and camera and uses some of the top drone technology on the market today. In only a few months since writing this article, some new and highly advanced drones such as the DJI Mavic 2, Mavic Air, Phantom 4 Pro, Inspire 2 and Walkera Voyager 5 have come to the market. The fast pace of drone technological innovation is tremendous.
How Drones Work
A typical unmanned aircraft is made of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. This composite material strength allows military drones to cruise at extremely high altitudes. Drones are equipped with different state of the art technology such as infrared cameras, GPS and laser (consumer, commercial and military UAV). Drones are controlled by remote ground control systems (GSC) and also referred to as a ground cockpit. An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigational systems are present. The rest of the body is full of drone technology systems since there is no space required to accommodate humans. The engineering materials used to build the drone are highly complex composites designed to absorb vibration, which decrease the sound produced. These materials are very light weight.
What Is A Drone And UAV Technology
Below we examine the science and drone technology behind the DJI Phantom 3 UAV. We also have plenty of information on the latest drone technologies from the newest drones on the market.
There are plenty of links where you can read deeper into various components of drone technology. For example, here is a terrific drone components overview article. This gives information on the individual components seen in most drones.
Drone Types And Sizes
Drones come in a wide variety of sizes, with the largest being mostly used for military purposes such as the Predator drone. The next in size are unmanned aircraft, which have fixed wings and require short runways. These are generally used to cover large sections of land, working in areas such as geographical surveying or to combat wildlife poaching.
Next in size for drones are what is known as VTOL drones. These are generally quadcopters but not all. VTOL drones can take off, fly, hover and land vertically. The exact meaning of VTOL is “Vertical Take-Off and Landing”. A few of the latest small drones such as the DJI Mavic Air and DJI Spark take VTOL to the next level and can be launched from the palm of your hand.
Radar Positioning & Return Home
The latest drones have dual Global Navigational Satellite Systems (GNSS) such as GPS and GLONASS. Drones can fly in both GNSS and non satellite modes. For example DJI drones can fly in P-Mode (GPS & GLONASS) or ATTI mode, which doesn’t use GPS. Highly accurate drone navigation is very important when flying especially in drone applications such as creating 3D maps, surveying landscape and SAR (Search & Rescue) missions. When the quadcopter is first switched on, it searches and detects GNSS satellites. High end GNSS systems use Satellite Constellation technology. Basically, a satellite constellation is a group of satellites working together giving coordinated coverage and synchronized so that they overlap well in coverage. Pass or coverage is the period in which a satellite is visible above the local horizon.
The radar technology will signal the following on the remote controller display;
• signal that enough drone GNSS satellites have been detected and the drone is ready to fly.
• display the current position and location of the drone in relation to the pilot.
• record the home point for ‘Return To Home’ safety feature. Most of the latest drone have 3 types of Return to Home drone technology as follows;
• pilot initiated return to home by pressing button on Remote Controller or in an app.
• A low battery level, where the UAV will fly automatically back to the home point.
• Loss of contact between the UAV and Remote Controller with the UAV flying back automatically to its home point.
Obstacle Detection And Collision Avoidance Technology
The latest high tech drones are now equipped with collision avoidance systems. These use obstacle detection sensors to scan the surroundings, while software algorithms and SLAM technology produce the images into 3D maps allowing the drone to sense and avoid. These systems fuse one or more of the following sensors to sense and avoid;
• Vision Sensor.
• Time of Flight (ToF).
• Monocular Vision.
The latest DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom have obstacle sensing on all 6 sides. The Mavic 2 uses both Vision and Infrared sensors fused into a vision system known as Omni-directional Obstacle Sensing. The DJI Mavic 2 obstacle sensing system is top drone technology. The Mavic 2 will sense objects, then fly around obstacles in front. It can do the same when flying backwards. Or hover if it is not possible to fly around the obstacle. This technology is known as APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) on the DJI Mavic 2 and Mavic Air drones.
Drone Motor Direction And Propeller Design
The motors and propellers are the drone technology, which move the UAV into the air and to fly in any direction or hover. On a quadcopter, the motors and propellers work in pairs with 2 motors / propellers rotating clockwise (CW Propellers) and 2 motors rotating Counter Clockwise (CCW Propellers). They receive data from the flight controller and the electronic speed controllers (ESC) on the drone motor direction to either hover or fly.