by Ben Fisher
Posted on July 13, 2014
What is a drone? A drone can be described in any number of ways. However, a good description might be a remote vehicle which has a human in the loop. A fully autonomous vehicle might be using system intelligence to control it’s mission but would also be beaming live footage and data to a human. For long missions, technology is such today that drones are more than capable of controlling their own mission leaving the human to take care of other tasks. The human can then be prompted when a decision needs to be made. A good example of this is in ocean science. A drone with a mission to sample ocean temperature and acidity in a specific location does not need a manned crew to carry out this task. A simple drone and mission can be automated at a much lower cost. When enough data had been successfully collected the human in the loop could then set a new mission to survey a new area near by.
Because of this, it is more than likely that drones will be designed to specification and come in different shapes and sizes. They will be optimised for the most efficient size and shape to carry out a mission. The great thing about this is that most of the hardware parts that make up a drone are cheap and reusable. A drone usually consist of a frame, power supply, onboard computer and electrics, propulsion and payload. A lot of the computer, electronics and propulsion motors are usually off the shelve and can therefore be swapped from one platform to another.
A cool example of this is Google’s Project Loon. It’s a high altitude balloon technology which is being used to give internet access to remote areas where it would normally not be viable. These low cost, automated drones can be flown on missions up to 100+ days. These drones have been designed to be relatively cheap and reusable so that many can be manufactured, distributed and launched pragmatically to create a moving network.
Google also made an acquisition of Titan Aerospace early this year which also has the same aspirations to improve peoples lives through the applications of the technology in development. These drones have been designed as a platform and could carry out any number of tasks when in operation.
As technology advances it is more than likely that drones will take ever varying shapes and sizes. Watch this space.