The term 'drone' is usually associated with an unmanned aircraft that can either remotely be controlled or automatically maneuver itself through different environments. From complex military applications in harsh terrains to simple hobbyists using them for recreational purposes, drones are almost everywhere these days.
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History of Drones
The concept of drones originates in the 1800s. In 1849, 200 unmanned balloons, each weighing between 11 to 14 kilograms, were stuffed with explosives and used in a scheduled attack. Fortunately, the hit accuracy for these balloons was only one percent due to the sudden change in the wind direction.
Still, this concept led to more militaries developing unmanned approaches in warfare, and by the early 1900s, simple quadcopter designs were designed.
During World War One, British Engineer Archibald Low designed the Ruston Proctor Aerial target, a pilotless military drone that used a radio guidance system to maneuver itself. Once the war ended, several experiments on radio-controlled aircraft were conducted by the US Navy, and eventually, this led to the development of the Curtis N2C-2 Drone in the year 1937.
The dawn of the Second World War was significant as this was one of the first times that drones were used to accurately bomb cities. Developed by German forces, the V-1 Doodlebugs were capable of bombing cities like London using simple autopilot for controlling the altitude and the airspeed; a pair of gyroscopes controlled the yaw and pitch of the drone with the barometer controlling the altitude.
In the Vietnam war, drones were used as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV's) for covert operations such as dropping vital information at specific locations and gathering information about the combat areas.
The Rise in Commercial Drones
These days drones are being used extensively in the military field and commercial operations. As drones provide increased productivity and work efficiency, they are extremely useful for delivering payloads to locations where physical travel is impossible. Companies like Amazon have started using the capabilities of drones for delivering goods to people.
Uber is also conducting trials to test whether they can deliver food aerially in crowded cities. There has also been a considerable increase in drone usage for photography and surveying, where companies like Swoop Aero are mapping vast areas in remote areas so that they can deliver medical supplies to these affected regions.
In the film industry, drones have been found to be less expensive than helicopters, where even small-scale indie films can afford wide-angle shots for their movies.
Insurance companies have taken note of the benefits of drones and use them for aerial surveying for assessing damages. Drones in agriculture are utilized as surveying large fields by farmers to maintain the number of fertilizers and crops they are using for maintenance.
How Amazon Drone Delivery Will Work
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Role of Artificial Intelligence in Drone Maneuvering
With the advent of artificial intelligence, drones are increasingly becoming autonomous. These days, small drones with attached sensors and payloads can maneuver themselves in different territories. However, these drones are incapable of exploring unmapped regions without human supervision.
To tackle this problem, a team of researchers at the University of Zurich have trained their autonomous quadcopter to fly through unseen environments at a speed of 40 kilometers an hour by using a combination of a simulator and a neural network assistant. Their research was published in the journal Science Robotics.
The assistant, known as the 'simulation expert', is an algorithm that can assist a drone in maneuvering around obstacles by understanding information from the drone's sensors and computing the best trajectory possible to move through a defined path.
After the training process, the drone was tested in the real world and successfully maneuvered through unexplored environments without collision. This simulator's results confirmed that using neural networks and simplistic simulators can train the drones to explore unknown territories in the shortest time possible.
The Road Ahead
Due to the rise in drones required for consumer usage in the past few years, there has been a considerable amount of growth in the drone services market size. It is predicted that the market for drones is supposed to grow to $63.6 billion (about $200 per person in the US) by the year 2025.
Continue reading: Commercial Drones: The Challenges Facing the Aerospace Industry.
References and Further Reading
Loquercio, A., Kaufmann, E., Ranftl, R., Müller, M., Koltun, V. and Scaramuzza, D., (2021) Learning high-speed flight in the wild. Science Robotics, 6(59). Available at: https://doi.org/10.1126/scirobotics.abg5810
O'Donnell, S. (2020) A Short History of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV). [online] Consortiq. Available at: https://consortiq.com/short-history-unmanned-aerial-vehicles-uavs/
Intelligence, BI. (2021) Drone market outlook: industry growth trends, market stats and forecast. [online] Business Insider. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/drone-industry-analysis-market-trends-growth-forecasts?r=US&IR=T
Springer, P., (2013) Military robots and drones. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO