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