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Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – Eyes in the Sky

An Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is an aircraft without a pilot or passengers that is mainly used for strategic planning and surveillance. It can be partially or completely autonomous and is controlled using microprocessors, actuators, and sensors that are located aboard the aircraft. It is more likely to be remotely controlled by a pilot using radio communication.

State-of-the-art Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

UAVs are more popularly referred to as drones but are also called by different terms such as unmanned airborne vehicles (UAV), unmanned aerial systems (UAS), remotely piloted airborne vehicles (RPAV), or remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS). These vehicles support a wide range of applications from being used commercially to deployment in military operations. They are classified based on their altitude range, size, and endurance. An unmanned aerial system mainly consists of two major parts: the aircraft and sensors.

Aircraft

The two major types of UAVs are fixed-wing and rotary-wing UAVs. Fixed-Wing UAVs, such as the Avian-P and Skylark II use fixed static wings and forward airspeed to create a lift and gain higher speed and cover longer distances. Rotary wings or multi-rotor UAVs, such as the Kraken-130 and the Phantom use multiple rotors to produce a lift just like a helicopter and can hover over a given area or remain still and make very little noise. According to altitude range, UAVs are classified into high-altitude platform UAV (HAP) and low-altitude platform UAV (LAP) vehicles. HAPs can fly up to 20 km above the Earth’s surface. They are quasi-stationary and have long endurance, hence are referred to by the term, high altitude long endurance (HALE) UAVs while LAPs are deployed just a few kilometers above the Earth’s surface, have quicker take-offs and higher speeds, making them suitable for emergency situations. As per size, UAVs are either small, medium, or large. Their control ranges from fully autonomous to manually controlled over the flight route and operation. Most UAVs run on batteries but some depend on solar cells, fuel cells, or airplane fuel. The most commonly-used drone battery technology is lithium-based as it possesses higher energy density than traditional nickel-based technologies and can provide more power per unit weight.

Sensors

UAVs have microprocessors to process the flight algorithm. A GPS sensor sends coordinates to the ground station, which can be used to locate the aircraft. They also have other sensors such as gyroscopes that keep the aircraft steady, a radio receiver for controlling the aircraft, and a barometer to calculate its height.


Applications of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • UAVs played a critical role during the COVID-19 pandemic across a wide range of applications such as law enforcement and as a delivery service for healthcare products and e-commerce.
  • Contemporary UAV technology finds utility and purpose in military, public and civil domains. In the military, they are being widely used for border surveillance, reconnaissance, and strikes, while in the public sector they are currently used by the police, traffic safety, and transport management. Their civil applications include rescue operations, connectivity, delivery, and construction.
  • With their high-resolution cameras, UAVs can capture excellent aerial photographs and videos, and collect large volumes of data. This data is transformed into detailed 3D Maps and Models for a thorough analysis. 3D Mapping is vital to examine cracks, damages, or the presence of hazardous elements in disaster-prone areas.
  • A Drone aircraft employed in agriculture can perform many farming operations such as spraying of pesticides, identification of weeds, monitoring crop health and damage, soil analysis, monitoring irrigation, etc.
  • Drones can live-stream private, political, and global events.

Advantages of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • Maintains Safety – Because of their remote control ability, Drones can monitor and communicate possible hazards in dangerous locations such as oil and gas refineries, pipelines, and flare stacks. They are used by the military in war zones. Operators can employ an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) to render safety and surveillance services to private enterprises. Drones can collect real-time, reliable information from natural disasters and support recovery efforts.
  • Cost-effective – With the extensive nature of UAV's applicability, their prices have fallen down. A Drone is more economical to buy, maintain, and fuel up than airplanes for inspections. There is no need for a ladder, aerial lifts, or any other heavy equipment. Lately, people are acquiring them to satiate their technophilia.
  • Precision – The GPS (Global Positioning System) installed in the UAVs lets them be programmed and guided toward the exact locations.
  • Ease of Use - Operators can quickly deploy and control drones with a minimal technical background.
  • Minimizes Health Risks and Hazards – UAVs avoid innumerable dangers such as higher elevation, bad weather, and radiation that used to affect crew members before.

Disadvantages of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles

  • Privacy Issues - UAVs can violate an individual’s or a group’s privacy in the name of public security.
  • Legislative Uncertainty – Even though the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) has become widespread, the laws around them are still developing. Rules regarding drone movement, and property and privacy protection from aerial trespassing are still in the making; thus, UAV technology is currently operating in a judicial gray zone.
  • Prone to Falls- Drones operating in heavily-populated regions have an increased risk of ground impact.
  • Software Malfunction - There have been several mishaps related to UAVs firing at civilians due to malfunctions or software glitches.
  • Vulnerability to Hacking - Hackers can attack a drone's central control and take charge of it. They can acquire confidential information, and leak them to unauthorized parties.

Countries with UAV Technology

China has become one of the world leaders in this sector with the introduction of a large number of advanced drone systems. It has delivered over 200 drones to 16 countries over the past decade. China’s exports have driven other nations, such as South Korea and Russia, to boost their own drone manufacturing capabilities. Although the U.S. exports its drones to more than 50 nations, it has stringent regulations against selling to particular countries, which have prompted those places to turn towards China to fill the void in the global drone market. China recently debuted the MD-22 wide-range UAV which can travel at hypersonic speed. In comparison with aerial drones, maritime Unmanned Aerial Vehicle technology is still at a nascent stage of development. Countries such as the U.S., U.K., and Russia have turned their focus toward the growth of marine UAVs. Asia Pacific nations are not far behind. They are heavily reliant on unmanned solutions for maritime missions. Burkhard Boeckem’s Leica BLK2FLY became the world’s first fully integrated LiDAR unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). It is the next generation in flight safety with advanced autonomous obstacle avoidance for easy UAV scanning. It has been designed to capture the exterior features and dimensions of buildings, structures, and other inaccessible environments and create 3D point clouds while flying.


Leveraging the UAV Technology for the Growth of Developing Countries

Developing countries can harness UAV technology for their advancement in fields such as-

  • UAVs aid in disaster management programs as they can be quickly deployed to collect visual data which can be used by rescue teams.
  • Agriculture in these countries will benefit greatly from UAVs as they provide cost-effective farm management in comparison with manned aircraft and satellites.
  • Several power-generating facilities such as hydroelectric dams, solar plants, and geothermal power plants are being commissioned in developing countries. With the help of UAVs, transmission lines can be accurately and timely monitored for power quality, especially for long lines that pass through hard-to-access areas such as national parks and forests.
  • Internet penetration is still low in certain countries. UAVs can provide a low-cost solution for internet connectivity.
  • Medical supplies like vaccines and drugs can be hard to deliver to remote rural areas. Medical Drones are currently being used in Public Health as medical couriers of food, water, and medicines, especially in disaster relief operations. They are cost-effective alternatives to the deployment of helicopters and other aircraft. UAVs cut down on travel time required for diagnosis and treatment. They can be used in the transport of blood from the blood bank to the site of surgery.

Exploring India’s Evolving Drone Ecosystem

India is the third largest importer of military-grade UAVs, with about 7% share of the total UAV deliveries reported across the globe in 2020, according to reports. In the same year, India’s UAV market was valued at almost USD 850 million and is projected to grow at a CAGR of around 15% percent by the end of the year 2026. The Indian government’s “Make in India” initiative, designed to facilitate the growth of the domestic manufacturing industry, has led to the emergence of a number of start-ups and joint ventures in the UAV sector. To regulate the use of drones, the Indian government has issued strict guidelines under the Unmanned Aircraft System Rules, 2021. As per this framework, those who wish to operate drones need to seek permission and a license, based on the classification of UAVs.

Conclusion:

With an extensive range of low-cost Unmanned Aerial Vehicles available for several purposes, they are open to a broad spectrum of operations. Drones have a wide range of movement and low- and effortless-flying capabilities when contrasted with a crewed aircraft. Over 90 countries already operate military drones, up from 60 in 2010, and every year, they are adding more units to their armed forces. This technology is only going to expand in the days ahead.

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Swara Keni

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