Drones are rapidly growing in popularity and have broken through rigid traditional barriers in industries. Over the past few years, drones have become central to the functioning of various businesses and governmental organisations. From scanning an unreachable location or military base to surveillance of an area or multiple areas, drones are proving to be extremely beneficial. Drones are the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Remotely Piloted Aerial System (RPAS) controlled either by a pilot on the ground or with the help of technology. It may be as small as a radio-centred toy helicopter or as big as a global hawk.
Drones are playing a significant role in fight against the coronavirus by supporting the activities undertaken by police, healthcare and municipal authorities in surveillance lockdown enforcement, surveying and mapping, spraying disinfectants etc.
Evolution of Drone Technology
The concept of drones may well date back to 1849, when Austria attacked Venice using unmanned ballons stuffed with explosives. Later in 1916, Great Britian developed the first pilotless winged aircraft, the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target. In 1935, the British developed ‘Queen Bee’, a radio-controlled target drone. Although originally built for military purposes, drones have seen rapid growth and advancements. Today this technology has evolved into different forms and used widely in defence, commercial aerial surveillance, journalism, crowd management, e-commerce and search and rescue operations.
Functioning of UAVs
An unmanned aerial vehicle system has two parts, the drone itself and the control system. The nose of the unmanned aerial vehicle is where all the sensors and navigation systems are present. The rest of the body is light weight. Drones can be controlled by the remote control system or a ground cockpit. They are equipped with state of the art technology such as infrared cameras, GPS, on-board sensors, software controlled flight plans and laser. The build type of UAVs are – fixed wing, tilt wing, unmanned helicopter and multicopter. Non-military UAVs use the electric engine and internal combustion engine.
For better functioning and control, some drones are provided with Radar positioning and Return home features. Radar positioning displays current location and when drone crosses the control range of remote control, the return home feature makes drones flyback to its takeoff point. The latest technology has an in built GPS enabled chip which is instrumental in finding drone’s location. An Altimeter lets the drone know what altitude it is at.
Types of Drones
Drones can be classified on different basis. Based on usage, it can be Drones for Aerial Mapping, Drones for Photography, Drones for Surveillance etc. However, the best classification of drones can be made on the basis of aerial platforms. Based or the type of aerial platform used, there are 4 major types of drones. They are-Multi rotor drones, Fixed wing drones, Single rotor helicopter drones and Fixed Wing Hybrid VTOL drones.
Multi rotor drones are the most common types of drones which are used for common applications like aerial photography, aerial video surveillance etc. Fixed wing drones use ‘wings’ like normal airplanes and are ideal for long distance operations like mapping or surveillance. Single rotor drones look very similar to helicopters and has just one big sized rotor plug and a small sized rotor on the tail to control its heading. Hybrid VTOL (Vertical Take-Off-and Landing) are hybrid versions of drones combining the benefits of Fixed wing models with that of Rotor bases models (hover).
Applications of Drone Technology
At present, the application areas of drones are limitless. The technology that was once designed to destroy is now being used for the betterment of mankind. From wildlife conservation to disease control, emergency responses, geographic mapping, UAVs are used in multiple sectors.
Drones are normally used in the situations where manned flight is considered toc risky or difficult. A typical unmanned aircraft is made up of light composite materials to reduce weight and increase its manouverability. This composite material’s strength allows military drones to cruise at extremely high altitudes thu proving very beneficial in a country’s defence mechanism. Many defence forces use drones as aerial targets to combat training of human pilots and to check the security of the sensitive areas.
Air surveillance of large areas is possible with low cost drones. The surveillance applications include livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping, pipeline security, home security, road patrolling and anti-piracy. Some journalists have even used drones for gathering news and covering disasters such as typhoons, damages done by hurricanes, etc.
Many police departments across the world have procured drones to maintain law and order. There are unarmed surveillance drones which are helpful to monitor the movements of armed groups in the region, and protect the civilian populatior more effectively. UAVs are very helpful in the search and rescue operations undertaken after the hurricanes and other natural calamities. UAVs have been tested as airborne lifeguards, locating distressed swimmers using thermal cameras and dropping life preservers to swimmers.
Drones have been successful in the documentation of animals such as counting the number of animals present in a reserve forest and combat poaching of endangered animals such as rhinoceros. Archaeologists have used drones to speed up survey work and protect sites from squatters, builders and miners. Small drones help researchers produce three-dimensional models of sites instead of the usual flat maps and in less time.
In agriculture, drones are helping in sprouting and monitoring crops, they can help assess, prevent and correct crop damage throughout the season by routine monitoring and early detection. To solve the problem of food insecurity, drones are instrumental as it helps in cutting down of crop losses through early detection of plant diseases.
Challenges of Drone Technology
However, these advantages generate three major risks, which are violating sovereignty, over-using the military option and making it more difficult to identify violations of constraints against targetting non-combats. Undoubtedly, drone technology is another example of the rapid technological development taking place in the world but looking at the safety and ethical concerns related to it, the regulatory authorities need to be stringent and lay down strict rules and regulations for the use of the unmanned vehicles and drone technology for different purposes.
Another challenge is that small drones can easily be built even by novice using parts that are easily available. This causes serious risk to security and privacy of people. Drones can also be used to record or look inside restricted places also such as prisons, military bases. It can be used to look inside homes through windows. There is a serious threat to safety and privacy of people because of drones.
Drone Technology in India
Given the complex security challenges that India faces, the role of UAVs in providing critical intelligence will be a key enabler not only in fighting wars effectively but also in deterring cross-border terrorist attacks in India. UAV of Indian Armed forces are Nishant, Rustom, UAV Panchi and AURA. Nishant’ is a multi-mission unmanned aerial vehicle with day/night capability used for battlefield surveillance and reconnaissance, target tracking and localisation and artillery fire correction. ‘Rustom’ is a medium altitude long endurance unmanned combat air vehicle being developed by DRDO. UAV Panchi’ is the wheeled version of unmanned aerial vehicle Nishant, capable of taking-off and landing by using small airstrips. ‘AURA’ is stealth UCAV, capable of releasing missiles, bombs and precision-guided munitions. Although, a number of countries are working individually or jointly to develop an advanced drone industry, currently the US, Israel and China are the market leaders.
Regulation of Drone Technology in India
The Ministry of Civil Aviation has been working for several years to establish a world leading drone ecosystem in India. Therefore, it was necessary to develop global standard drone regulations that would permit, with appropriate safeguards, the commercial application of various drone technologies.
According to the new regulations, there is need to obtain a Unique Identification Number (UIN), which is an equivalent of a number plate for all drones except drones in the Nano category. There is also need of an Unmanned Aerial Operator Permit (UAOP) or Remote Pilot license costing about * 25,000 if you are operating above 200 feet. The drone will require an insurance cover, which should be of an adequate amount to cover risks, damages or other factors that are posed by operation. All drones will need to be NPNT compliant (No Permission No Take off), a software program to enable operators to obtain permissions prior to flying under these guidelines. Air space has also been partitioned into Red Zone or ‘No-fly Zone’, Yellow zone and Green Zone.
Drones are proving to be extremely beneficial in places where men cannot reach or is unable to perform in timely and efficient manner. But they are still in infancy stage and hence require improvement. Drones fly at low speed in comparison to manned aircraft.
Hence, there is need to enhance its speed. Drones are vulnerable to hackers and hence there is need to make it full proof. Though its usage is confined to few areas or sectors but in near future, it is expected to advance in almost every sector. In this backdrop authorities need to focus on two important aspects, first, incentivising the industries to adopt and develop the drone technology which will enhance their productivity and second regulating in such manner to address some of the challenges such as invasion of privacy and unauthorised surveillance. At global level, there is need of an international control regime on the proliferation and use of armed drones.
Drone technology is constantly evolving, so future drone tech is currently undergoing ground breaking progressive improvements. The advantages offered by use of drones are numerous. Throughout the world, innovators and scientific researchers are coming together to find innovative ways to use drones to fight COVID-19.
In such critical times, policy makers world over are leveraging the advantages of drones and facilitating their wider deployment by removing barriers and streamlining their use. Over the period of time, drone technologies continue to evolve and grow as well as drones will become safer and more dependable.
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