Weapons of war have crossed over to the mainstream. I am referring here to a specific piece of technology, UAV technology, or as we know them – drones. The first flight of the drone occurred on February 4,2002 in Afghanistan when the U.S. government used it in a targeted killing of someone they thought was Osama Bin Laden.
In order to understand drones, let’s break down what the drone is because it has a rich history. The drone falls into a category of technology called UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle.
The actual first recorded precursor to the drone was in Austria in 1849 where the Austrian military flew two pilotless hot air balloons. As time progressed, we went to an unmanned aerial vehicle, which was known as the predator drone.
After looking at this picture, you may wonder how did we go from this large thing to this:
The answer lies in gyroscope technology, which allows the drone to act against all of the opposing forces in the air and keep itself balanced.
How does this work?
Well, drones are made of small composite materials that are quite literally enduring all kinds of forces in the air. What makes it work is that the gyroscope is triggered by a sensor which measures the IMU, or inertial measurement unit, and reacts to the push and pull of the force in the air and therefore stabilizes itself. Look at this picture:
This is the gyroscope that is inside the drones and when a force acts on it it moves and spins on gimbals; when placed in a drone it absorbs the force and uses the Earth’s gravity to stabilize itself.
Moving from the battlefield to the home
When a person can use a device like the gyroscope, it no longer needs to be very big, it can be scaled down in size. There are such things as microscopic drones…the point is they no longer needed to be monitored from the ground, simply programmed in terms of destination.
Amazon.com has launched several initiatives to have drones deliver packages to homes. So have a number of other companies, however, a common objection is mid-flight collisions. No one would want large flying robots crashing in their backyard.
Still, this once large airplane predator that was on the battlefield, has now been shrunk down and made very practical.
Some might call this a fad, and in my opinion, it is too early to tell. What is remarkable is the non-military applications for these flying robots: journalists are using them for aerial photography; FEMA is interested in the applications for disaster management – the drone can scan an area where devastation has occurred and gather information quickly; they can monitor wildlife areas and detect where poaching may be occurring; farmers can fly them over large areas of land and monitor the progress of crops; and building inspectors can use them to investigate the safety level of a new building.
The modern drone certainly is making a statement and it’s applications are certainly intriguing to a number of groups. But what about the simple idea of a robot flying in the sky. A lot of folks are not really comfortable with this idea, it is a classic question of interaction between a human and a robot.
For this writer, I am reserving comment. I will say the applications are quite helpful, particularly disaster management. Think of how fast people can be saved. On the other hand, is there some unforeseen downside, or is it simply uncomfortable for people living amongst flying robots.
When you take the surveillance application into account, it can give a lot of us the chills and evoke thoughts of big brother watching us. Wherever you stand, drones are certainly gaining ground and their popularity and focus among the robotics community, primarily robotics businesses, and is increasing and spreading every day.