Thoughts about Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)

Blog Post created by davinci7_gis on Aug 5, 2014

Modern day unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are relatively new to the general public but have been enjoyed by hobbyists for more than 50 years in the form of remotely controlled model airplanes.


These vehicles were normally flown in community and public parks and were enjoyed by young and old alike.   In the very beginning, the model airplanes were all free flight - meaning that they were under no control from the operator at all.  The operator would build his or her aircraft out of balsa wood and tissue paper using a hand carved wooden propeller that would spin via the use of a tightly wound up rubber band.  Once the rubber band and propeller had been wound up, the operator would hold the airplane in their hand and with a slight forward and upward motion, the plane would glide and then climb into the air - and travel until the rubber band unwound.


With the rise of the transistor and integrated circuit, lead and acid batteries, the free flight airplane became remotely controlled by the operator/pilot.  The pilot would construct both the model airplane (still made from balsa and tissue) along with his/her radio transmitter.  The transmitter would be built by hand via the soldering of various electronic components together to produce either a 1 or 2 channel transmitter.  This radio transmitter or remote control (RC), with 2 channels could control the rudder (on the tail) allowing for left or right movement in the air while the other channel would control the elevator (on the horizontal wings by the tail) allowing up or down movement of the plane in the air.  Motors on these old planes ran on glow fuel - something akin to lamp oil or kerosene that worked by initiating a glow plug (similar to a spark plug) that would turn a crank case which spun a propeller.


Fast forward to today (2014).  We have high powered lithium-ion batteries that have multiple charge cells that can deliver high watts and amperage to a brush-less electric motor.  We have 19 and 20 channel digital transmitters that work in the high FM frequencies which can lock in automatically to the frequency of the digital receiver on the plane to minimize any interference.  We also have very small integrated circuits that have provided us the ability to develop very small video cameras along with transmitters that can fit in the size of your palm.  And, all of this has happened in the last 10 years.


Now, everyone can watch multi-rotor model aircraft with GoPro cameras underneath fly through the air in the midst of fireworks, peer down on a secluded beach, and even provide contraband to prisoners over restraining walls.  Even Martha Stewart has gotten on board with using UAVs Drones thrill Martha Stewart... and US prison convicts - Yahoo News


But, like any new technology, it has positives and negatives.  Privacy and Safety being the main concern of citizens of the US.  Currently, the FAA is accepting comments on its interpretation of the special rule of model aviation http://www.faa.gov/about/initiatives/uas/media/model_aircraft_spec_rule.pdf which seeks to clarify the difference between a model airplane and a drone (military).


Along with this, the US Congress, under the FAA Modernization Act of 2012, charged the FAA with drafting rules that would address the commercial use of unmanned aerial vehicles by September 2015.  But, alot of people think that this deadline is not going to be met.


At the same time, corporations like Google, and Amazon have purchased UAV technology firms and want to begin using UAVs for commercial purposes.  Think about it, products could logistically be transported to your door very fast and very efficiently at any time of day or night.  Also, WIFI service, for hard to reach locations, could be set up using line of sight transmission between multiple drones at a time.


Finally, think about all the other potential services that UAVs could assist with: search and rescue applications, land development and land planning, asset management, logistics, you name it, commercial drone technology could truly assist us all - especially the GIS community.


I know that UAV technology is not going to go away anytime soon.  I also know that there will be time needed to research and think about various positive and negative aspects of this technology and to develop solutions for the negative ones. But, in the end, I hope that this new technology is embraced by our society for the many great services and products that this technology can bring about.




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