The Rise of Drone. From internet delivering drones to those disrupting the supply chain industry by delivering goods (think Pizza) at your doorstep, these unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) have managed to become an indispensable tool within virtually every industry in just a few years if you’re a passionate photographer thinking of taking up aerial photography or simply a hobbyist interested in flying drones, understanding the underlying functionality and knowing how they can be extremely helpful.
How Drones Work:
Although a drone might seem simple and effortless on the surface, it’s actually composed of a variety of highly intricately designed components and parts that help the thing fly.
- Frame: The body of the drone is made out of a sturdy but lightweight material (usually plastic, fiberglass or carbon fiber) that is capable of allowing the drone to gain altitude and fly easily. The frame acts as an external protective case that houses all of the important electronic components of the drone at the center, including the spokes that radiate outward from this point. The frame also acts as additional protection against water. You don’t want the drone to malfunction just because it’s raining!
- Propellers: These are the wing-shaped structures that help generate torque for the drone and are essentially responsible for all kinds of drone movement, including flying, hovering, tilting, turning as well as moving forwards and backward. These propellers are highly sensitive to slight variations in the rotational speed and help you maneuver the drone in the direction you want.
- Motor & Battery: The motor provides all the rotational power required to move the propellers and provide the power for the rotors to actually move. Some of the latest drones now include brushless motors which are more energy efficient and help save battery life. Speaking of which, the battery used to power the electronics within the drone is Lithium Polymer Type Li-Po battery, that is known for its light-weight and high energy density. While Li-Po batteries do pose a challenge in terms of handling them, they are highly suitable for flying drones.
- Camera & Gimbal: Go-Pro cameras are probably the most popular cameras used in drones. Go-Pro provides high-definition results with a variety of angles that are suitable for capturing images and making videos. All drones usually come with a Gimbal that helps stabilize the picture when the drone is on the move. Without a Gimbal, the image captured by the camera would always be blurry because of the motion. A Gimbal does not only take care of this motion but also helps neutralize and dampen any vibration that may occur as the camera takes photos or videos when the drone is flying. Another great feature that the Gimbal offers is that of providing a three-dimensional rotation that provides to take photos and videos at a 360-degree angle.
- Receiver: Drones also feature a standard radio signal receiver that allows the drone to receive instructions signals being transmitted by the pilot. The receiver is usually equipped with 4 to 5 channels that allow for easier pick-up of navigational signals and instructions.
- Global Positioning System: A drone wouldn’t be complete without a GPS receiver. Simply put, a GPS receiver let the pilot know the exact location of the drone, it’s position, elevation as well as a compass heading. This way, the pilot can always be in complete control of the flight path of the drone. Another important advantage of the GPS is that it allows you to select a failsafe home point so that you can easily locate your drone even if you lose sight of it.
- Flight Controller: Flight controller is like the brain of the entire drone. It acts as an integrating center that receives inputs from all other parts of the drone like the GPS information, battery status, and all other relevant sensors on board. Flight Controller acts a regulator by sending signals to various parts of the drone and helping in adjusting motor speed, varying camera angle, initiating auto-pilot mode, etc.
- Landing Gear: This part is often ignored or overlooked when talking about drones. Landing gear is a highly essential component of a drone as it provides protection against unstable landings. Some drones come with fixed landing gear, others have a retractable landing gear feature. Regardless of what the landing gear looks like, its primary feature is to provide protection and preserve inner sensitive electronic machinery contained within the drones during landing (particularly the camera that has all the images and video data).
Aside from the parts discussed above, drones come equipped with several types of sensors depending on the model of the type of drone you have. Types of sensors usually vary. For example, some drones may come with different types of laser or thermal sensors that help generate a variety of data.
How it All Comes Together
Without getting all technical, drones rely largely on the rotors for achieving flight. To achieve vertical motion, the rotors act as a fan to provide the necessary propulsion to let the drone gain flight. This might sound like a complicated physics lesson, but it’s actually a really simple concept. As the rotors begin to spin, they push down on the air, and thanks to Newton’s Third Law (Every action has an equal but opposite reaction) the air pushes up on the rotor, which provides the drone with the upward force required to defy gravity. The forward and sideways motions rely on the interplay of forces as well which ultimately ends up producing enough torque, allowing the drone to fly. So without dumping any further complicated terms, the majority of the drone movement relies on the spin of the rotors.
And this is where the motor and the flight control center come in. The flight control center receives signals being transmitted by the pilot and sends this information to the motor which adjusts its speed in order to alter the spin of the rotors and help move the drone in the direction required. Through the collaboration between the various parts of a drone, a pilot can easily adjust and change direction, vary speed and angle of a drone without any hassle.
Drones Control & Communication
You need to be able to communicate with your drone wirelessly, and there are different ways this is made possible. While some of the older models feature only one or the other mode of communication, modern drone models are equipped with all of the latest modes of communication including wifi, radio, and GPS.
1. Radio Frequencies:
Radio waves can allow you to communicate with your drone remotely. Drones that communicate using radio waves usually come with a signal transmitter that you can use to send radio signals at specific frequencies that are then picked up by the drone. Usually, the drones have a unique identification code that can be used to identify the radio signals thereby preventing anyone else to control your drone.
2. Wifi Controls:
Drones nowadays come equipped with wifi so that the video being captured by the camera can be sent to your computer or any other device instantaneously over the internet. Certain drones also come with their own app that you can easily download on your tablet or phone and control the movements of the drone via the app. The app and the drone receive and send signals through the wifi alone.
As mentioned earlier, a GPS can enable your drone to communicate the exact location of where it is at any given moment. Some drones may send this information directly to the app that you use to control the drone with. A GPS is a great way to ensure that you always know exactly where your drone is or where it is headed.
What the future holds
Drone live-streaming has become a new trend recently that has generated this hype for drones in general that didn’t exist before. With live-streaming capabilities controlled via the app on your phone, you can take things one step further and engage users by sharing your drone footage directly through your device. They are a variety of applications of this feature. Drone live-stream footage can be priceless in the media industry. Emergency respondents and rescue teams can benefit from drone live-footage sharing capabilities significantly by sharing the footage with the rest of the team and be more efficient in terms of the decisions that they take. Drone live-streams can be also be used by police to perform rescue searched in remote locations more easily. Drone technology is, therefore, just starting to evolve and develop even further.
Drone aerial photography and videography are likely to experience significant boosts as well as the technology undergoes further advancements and become more accessible to users. Perhaps the future will bring more flexibility in terms of mounting cameras of your own choice or getting pictures or videos from a wide variety of angles that you specify. With new and advanced features being introduced every other day, it is more than likely that drones would have even wider applications in the future.