Friday, April 8, 2016
What Really is a Drone?
by Jason Boryszewski
Drones have exploded in popularity over the past few years due to their ease of use and access. The FAA even instituted a program because of their popularity that requires all "unmanned aircraft systems," as the FAA refers to them, over 0.55 lbs to be registered online. Drones available to consumers range from $50 to $2,000 and even beyond. Obviously within such a large price range there is a wide variety of features available, from gps and autopilot to stabilized camera systems. At it's core though, all drones are made up of the same basic components. There are seven different basic components that are present in nearly all drones: the main controller, sensors, electronic speed controllers, receivers, motors, propellers, and the transmitter.
The main controller, as the name suggests, is an embedded computer that is the "brains" of the UAV(another name for drones). There are many different designs of MC. Some are modular (removable) and allow for modification and attachment of accessories such as gimbal controllers. Others are included on a circuit board along with sensors and electronic speed controllers. Modular designs tend to be on higher end drones, but allow for upgrades and modification.
Sensors allow the drone to keep track of its movement, and communicate that information back to the main controller so changes can be made. How fast the drone is accelerating, in which direction it is travelling, and whether the drone is right side up or not are all determined by the sensors. Electronic speed controllers perform a similar purpose, as I'm sure you are able to figure out.
The receiver, paired with the transmitter, allows the operator to communicate with the drone. Instructions are sent from the transmitter and are received by the receivers. Flying a drone is not like flying a RC plane though. Many drones include autopilot features, and also allow for pre programmed flight paths. This is part of the reason drones exploded in popularity. Everyone remembers getting an RC plane for Christmas and crashing it catastrophically the first time they flew it, but this is not the case with drones.
The last piece of the puzzle are motors and propellers. For each motor there are two parts: one motor that rotates clockwise and another that rotates counterclockwise. The motors themselves are usually brushless electric motors. Most consumer UAVs use propellers made out of plastic, but UAVs designed for extreme performance and commercial purposes use carbon fiber propellers which are much more rigid, but also more dangerous. The most popular UAV design known as the "quadcopter" has 4 propellers, hence the name quadcopter, but there are many different designs that include up to even 8 propellers.
As mentioned earlier, the more expensive the UAV the more features included. On higher end drones features such as GPS and "optical flow" become available. GPS allows the drone to hover automatically, return to the operator on demand, and generally have a much higher degree of autonomy. Optical flow is essentially indoors GPS, allowing the drone to fly much better indoors. Also higher end drones come with better transmitters that include features such as telemetry. Telemetry is just a feature that allows you to track data related to your flight such as speed, battery voltage, and altitude right on your transmitter.
Posted by Unknown at 10:10 AM