Drones: The “Now” Thing in Tech

   Drones for pizza delivery, drones used in war. Obviously, the technology is evolving and we wanted to know more about it. Zintro experts provide an overview, insights, and info on drones.

James Heires, an expert aircraft avionics, says that drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are the “now” thing in tech, especially as they pertain to military operations. “Drones are appealing to the military because the technology can do some jobs that humans are unable to do, like move through a toxic gas cloud without protective gear. Drones remove risk, as pilots are sometimes halfway around the world operating the drone. And, they are relatively cheap.” explains Heires. “Many tasks can be achieved with drones. In the air, drones can stay aloft for days doing reconnaissance, targeting or even firing on enemy positions or suspects. They can fly into areas off-limits to piloted aircraft (like Pakistan). On the ground, drones can assist infantry to see around corners or see through smoke or other obstructions with properly fitted sensors. Ground drones can also perform recon, enemy firing, mapping, or mine detection.”

Heires says that there are roadblocks facing UAV buyers and makers. “As UAVs become more sophisticated and relied upon, they are getting larger and this can pose a risk to other aircraft or vehicles. This means that drones need tech such as automatic flight controls, transponders, and ‘limp home’ technologies to keep them out of enemy hands,” he explains. “Because some drones carry weapons, safety is increasingly important. This brings new challenges to engineers because the systems that perform these duties on regular vehicles need to be tailored to fit the size, shape, power, cooling, and cost of drones.”

Jonathan Oaks, an expert in aviation management, says the simple reason why drones are appealing is monetary. “As with other technologies, the draw is maintaining and reducing payroll costs, the major cost factor for any business venture,” he says. “Take out the human pilots and costs are immediately and dramatically reduced.”

Oaks considers another factor: reliability. “With modern computing, drones are reliable instruments. This is due in part to redundancies built into the UAVs that are necessary to assure safety of the system since drones must share the same airspace as all other aircraft,” he says.

And drones may be used on more mundane tasks, moving humans to higher-order activities. “We may see mundane task like air cargo flights over long distances completed by machine. Since boredom won’t set in with a UAV, the safety of the flight may be enhanced as long as humans remain in charge of and aware of the UAV flight envelope. FedEx has recently mentioned the possibility of utilizing UAVs to move cargo,” notes Oaks.

Roadblocks to this technology include funding. “It takes a lot of cash to bring something as complex as UAVs to fruition. Additionally, the FAA must be able to insert UAVs with the utmost assurance of safety. So reliability, redundancy, training of air traffic controllers, and implementation of drones into an already crowded airspace, on top of implementing NextGen systems, will require careful scrutiny and study to make drones a normal part of our nation’s airspace,” says Oaks.

Alan Jupp, an aircraft maintenance consultant, thinks that drones are gaining an increasing foothold in aviation and not just in the military. “Boarder patrol, surveillance generally, fire fighting and search are good examples of how drones are used,” says Jupp. “The cost per flight hour can be many times less than conventional aircraft, the obvious cost saving is on human operation. Technical role equipment can be as simple as a good onboard camera with satellite uplinks to any system normally operated in conventional aircraft. The big issues are how drones share airspace with conventional aircraft.”

By Maureen Aylward

Zintro, Inc

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