A drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, and also referred to as a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). It is an aircraft without a human pilot aboard. Its flight is controlled either autonomously by onboard computers or by the remote control of a pilot on the ground or in another vehicle.
Beyond the unfortunate military applications of UAVs with which "drones" became most associated, numerous civil aviation uses have been developed, including aerial surveying of crops, aerial footage in filmmaking, search and rescue operations, inspecting power lines and pipelines, counting wildlife, delivering medical supplies to remote or otherwise inaccessible regions, with some manufacturers rebranding the technology as "unmanned aerial systems" (UASs) in preference over the military-connotative term "drones." Further uses include reconnaissance operations, forest fire detection, surveillance, coordinating humanitarian aid, search & rescue missions, detection of illegal hunting, land surveying, fire and large-accident investigation, landslide measurement, illegal landfill detection...The list is endless.
These civil aviation uses are becoming more and more widespread as this equipment develops in functionality, ease of use, practicality, but they have also become a "must have gadget". They are not a simple toy and unfortunately can damage property and even cause serious accidents. The CAA or Civil Aviation Authority has now launched its "Dronecode" to ensure hobbyists are aware of their responsibilities to fly safely and legally. The Dronecode initiative follows complaints that on each occasion of near-collision with passenger aircraft, the drone pilots were flying their toys well above the established height limits, with some reported as high as 2,000ft above ground level.
Please see a short list of guidelines on safe drone flying and a short video by the CAA on flying drones here.
- Examples of drone manufacturers
A multicopter is a mechanically simple aerial vehicle whose motion is controlled by speeding or slowing multiple downward thrusting motor/propeller units.
A quadcopter (four motors) is a type of multicopter, with each motor/propeller spinning in the opposite direction from the two motors on either side of it (i.e. motors on opposite corners of the frame spin in the same direction). See below.
A quad copter can control it’s roll and pitch rotation by speeding up two motors on one side and slowing down the other two. So for example if the quad copter wanted to roll left it would speed up motors on the right side of the frame and slow down the two on the left. Similarly if it wants to rotate forward it speeds up the back two motors and slows down the front two.
Horizontal motion is accomplished by temporarily speeding up/slowing down some motors so that the vehicle is leaning in the direction of desired travel and increasing the overall thrust of all motors so the vehicle shoots forward. Generally the more the vehicle leans, the faster it travels. Altitude is controlled by speeding up or slowing down all motors at the same time.
A multicopter becomes a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) or Drone when it is capable of autonomous flight. Normally this means taking the accelerometer and gyro information and combining it with barometer and GPS data so the flight controller understands not only it’s orientation but also it’s position.