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Drones - should they be called that?

Origin of Drones

As Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle (UAV) and drone technology continue to expand, it would be of great use to know how they operate or perform. Understanding the expansion of UAV technology is vital in understanding why the market segment is growing at such a rapid pace and why so many large technology companies are investing resources into UAV research. To have a thorough understanding of what a UAV is, let us determine where the term first came from and how it is also referred to in other spheres of influence.

While the term 'drone' has become a more widely used term in the public domain, it was first coined in reference to a remotely-flown practice vehicle that was used to test battleship weapons in the 1920’s. Later, the term 'drone' was used in reference to unmanned aircraft in the late 1934 and early 1935. In the current contemporary era, the United States Department of Defense (DoD) adopted the term Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) in 2005. For further classification and understanding, synonymous terms to UAVs and drones includes Unmanned Aircraft Vehicle Systems (UAVS), Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicles (RPAV), and Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS).

Since the first recorded usage of an UAV in July 1849, technological advancements have steadily carved out a space for UAVs and created a diversity in the UAV market. Though only originally used as tools of war, UAVs have slowly made their way into civilian and commercial space in recent years.

A more thorough depiction of the history of UAVs includes the most important discovery necessary to the development of UAVs. In 1898, Nikola Tesla made audiences awestruck when he demonstrated his first unmanned aquatic vehicle. Tesla toggled motors on and off using remote radio frequencies when he uttered verbal cues aloud. At the time, this astounded onlookers and led them to believe he was using magic to control the boat. Today we know remote-controlled technologies not only paved the way for UAVs, but many other devices. With the discovery of methods of flight in 1903 by the Wright Brothers, drone technology could then move airborne. However, it was not until hobbyist Reginald Denny sold 15,000 radio-controlled target drones to the US military to train anti-aircraft gunners that UAVs became a feasible idea in the technological space. At this point of time, constant upgrades in technology such as micro-controller chips and GPS-tracking advancements enabled UAVs to be compactly built for easier control. The the real turning point for UAVs occurred in 1982 when Israeli forces successfully used UAVs to combat the Syrian Air Force. This event in time gathered interest for UAVs to be used in the military space and allowed for savvy political figures to imagine how they could be used in war games. From this point onward, the use of UAVs has steadily increased in military usage and in 2014 UAVs made their way to the commercial sphere when Amazon announced its ambitious plans for a drone delivery service.

Methods of Flight

Today UAVs work differently depending on their sizes, models, and purposes. Some UAVs are autonomous, while others follow preprogrammed routines. Regarding aerodynamic design, UAVs currently fall into either one of the two categories of a fixed-wing design or rotary-type vehicle. Like typical planes, fixed-wing UAVs require a runway or launch pad where the vehicle can produce forward motion and gain the necessary lift that is needed in order to fly. Rotary UAVs are far common because of their ability to produce stable flight for commercial purposes. For instance, using quadcopter (Vertical Take Off and Landing) UAVs for photography or using Fixed-Wing UAVs for purposes such as crop-dusting. In these differing cases UAVs can also range from battery-powered propeller models to those that are operated by jet engines.

Control of UAVs

There are differences in how UAVs are controlled dependent on the function and intended use. In most military operations a satellite antenna is connected to a ground-control station that relays a signal between the UAV to a satellite antenna that is constantly talking to a communications satellite. Once the UAV leaves the range of the ground-control station, it then begins to communicate and receive its orders from the connected with the ground-control station. While communication is being carried out the UAV is simultaneously relaying its position to a separate GPS satellite.

Commercial UAVs have a much more simplistic design that often involves one pilot operating the vehicle with a handheld steering device or handheld radio attached to a powerful antenna. With these designs in mind, many companies have continued to expand UAV technology.

Design of UAVs

Some of the largest companies in the UAV industry includes DJI (Dajiang) Innovations, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and even Amazon. DJI alone has granted patents ranging from the methods of creating a flight apparatus and communication coverage of a UAV to aircraft-altitude control methods. According to a quick analysis obtained through Orbit Intelligence, the number of UAV patents published has been exploding in volume since 2014. Most interestingly, alive patents increased over eight times since the year 2014 until 2017 for UAV patents and associated concepts.

The number of alive patents filed in recent years for UAV technologies and concepts

Future of UAVs

Upcoming advancements in the sphere of UAV technology include Amazon’s plan to expand existing drone flight, configuration and imaging designs to create a fully automated delivery system. Amazon has constantly pushed the envelope to pursue possible solutions to stabilize UAV flight configurations and possible package delivery options. Other leading companies, such as AeroVironment Inc. have developed different possible energy mechanisms or improvements for powering UAVs. According to Business Insider, the UAV market is currently worth 2 billion dollars and will garner an 82 billion dollar boost to the economy by the year 2025. With key technological expansions the general public will see UAVs becoming a growing behemoth int their daily lives, ensconcing the sphere of package delivery to capturing some of the most imaginative landscape images.

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