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Is it a bird, is it a plane…?! No, it’s just a drone!

A drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) is a flying vehicle without a human pilot on board. They are controlled remotely, by a person or computer nearby or thousands of kilometers away from the drone. While some drones are just bought for fun of steering an aerial vehicle, others are programmed for certain tasks and fly autonomously. Take for example military drones that are intended to take out other flying targets. In general, most ‘work’ drones are preferred for missions and tasks that are too dull, dirty or dangerous for humans.

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Drones programmed for (military) missions are not ‘new’, belonging to only this century, as the story of military drones or unmanned combat aerial vehicles (UCAV) started well before manned flight. Think of the Austrian army attack on Venice in 1849 or the Japanese attacks on US targets during World War II in which balloons were used. Military leaders have always dreamed of reaching their enemies from distance, avoiding human casualties. So it’s not strange to see that the US military sector was leading in these types of engagements with the aerial military surveillance.

The first unmanned jets came into use after World War II, in early 1951, called the Ryan Firebee. Since then, the number of military drones has increased significantly and it has been described as the new paradigm for warfare.
While drones used to be expensive and therefore restricted to use by governmental organizations, the decrease in costs and weight in among other cameras, data storage systems, sensors, GPS through the mass production of mobile phones has led to great popularity for the drones among hobbyists.

What kind of materials / features does a drone have?

On the outside, the drone’s frame often consists of glass fiber tissue with carbon, aluminum, metal foam or biological materials such as mycelium. On the inside, the drone often is a framework of hardware- and software components that varies per drones to optimize it for its task. It’s often equipped with radio graphic control with video via wifi, radio frequencies or a satellite by which the video camera images can followed on the ground.
These are several types of drones, divided by:

  • Numbers of wings: bi-copter (2), tri-copter (3), quadcopter (5), hexacopter (6), octocopter (8)
  • Wings flexibility: fixed wings, flexible wings
  • Purpose: military, civil, public services, hobby

 

Legislation

Although drones are mostly harmless and designed to help humanity, there are some downsides to drones. Flying them into the city, can cause distortion of wireless communication between other devices and onboard drone cameras lead to privacy concerns. One of the reason, the United States AeroSpace Association has called for all stakeholders to design a law in which personal privacy, transparency and employment are added. Especially since the US expects to have 10.000 flying commercial drones by 2017. At the same time, European governments are focusing on banning drones from airports.

Application of drones

  • Military: drones are practically invisible at a height of 300 meters and you cannot hear them, so they are of great value to special forces team in reconnaissance missions. Equipped with a ARGUS-IS-camera a HD live stream can be created of 55 square kilometers, a system which can follow individuals on the ground. Night vision equipment such as an infrared camera makes drones very useful for night missions as well. There are also armed drones known as Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV) which can attack ground and aerial targets and were employed during the war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Obviously, there are many benefits to using drones over soldiers, as they are cheaper, don’t need training, and only suffer from material damage. However, armed drones have been a topic for discussion for many people’s rights associations, since drones have been known to kill civilian causalities in the lines of war.
  • Civil: the civil applications for drones are endless, just think of aerial photos of crops, camera angles in the movie industry, aerial photography, tracking the road network, search and rescue operations, searching of radioactive sources, the inspection of high voltage installations, climate research around volcanoes, inspection of buildings, the protection of wild animals and the delivery of food and medicine to remote areas.
  • Public services: the employment of drones can be useful to help with hostage situations, tracking of criminals, rescue operations and fire control. Think of a situation in which an emergency medical drone can quickly be deployed to deliver medication, a defibrillator or reanimation tools.
  • Hobby: as drones are getting cheaper, many drones are more and more used for leisure activities. From flying a drone in your own garden, to a world championship in drone racing.

 

And for the people that don’t like drones?

There are methods and equipment that will prevent drones from entering a certain airspace or completing his mission:

  • In 2013 Samy Kamkar demonstrated a hostile takeover by attacking the open wireless connection from the drone.
  • China and the USA are working on a laser strike for drones which could attack drones up to 500 meters in the air and up to a speed of 180 km/h.
  • A frequency jammer can be used to jam the radio signal between the ground control and the control or video of the drone, but they are prohibited in many countries. However, when the signal drops out, most drones are programmed to fly back to the starting point based on GPS.

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