UAV. Maybe you have heard about this acronym or maybe not. It means Unmanned Aerial Vehicles.  These are often referred to as Drones. The main characteristic all UAVs have in common in is the absence of a human pilot. Their flight is controlled by an onboard flight controller, which includes a main processor and a bunch of sensors (accelerometers, gyroscopes and more depending on the application).

Recently multirotor UAVs have drawn a lot of attention from businesses. These fly more or less on the same principle as helicopters but they have 3 (or more) propellers. They are relatively easy to use, cheap and they can act like sensors which can move in 3D space.

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A quadrotor UAV used at INRIA (A French research center) 

The last sentence should give you a hint on why multirotor UAVs will change our lives in the next 10 years. The main fields of application for these vehicles are:

  • Movies/photography
  • Archeology and mapping of archaeological sites
  • Surveillance
  • Search and rescue in post-catastrophic events
  • Agriculture

Let’s spend few words on each of these categories.

In movie and TV production they already changed your life!  Most of the nice aerial shots you see these days are now done using a camera mounted to a multirotor UAV. Another example I like is weddings. In Italy, one of the biggest markets of multirotor UAVs is the aerial videos during this kind of events.

Another fascinating use combines drones and archeology. Nowadays, most of the archaeology research institutes have multirotor UAVs. An example is the reconstruction of the famous city of Pompeii done by a French institute (INRIA) in a collaboration with Microsoft.

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A fleet of quadrotor UAVs used at INRIA (A French research center) 

Surveilling big outdoor facilities is also done more and more by drones.

In Europe, a lot of money has been spent on a project called SHERPA to let ground and aerial vehicles cooperate with an expert in case of avalanches. Imagine how much help an aerial camera when you are searching for someone buried in snow.

My favorite field of application of UAVs is agriculture. A field (no pun intended) where I really think that drones can make a difference. They can be helpful in doing crop analysis, measuring the height of the plants, levels of water and/or nitrogen and so on. For a long time in order to get aerial images, field-owner had to rely on human-piloted airplanes and/or satellites. Just try to think about the costs.

Before leaving you, just keep in mind two more possible future large-scale applications of multirotor UAVs:

  • Delivering pharmaceuticals and first aid kits
  • Delivering packages (Amazon, with its project Prime Air, is already working on it since few years but aerial delivery is far from happening any soon on a large scale).

Another direction that in my opinion is one of the most important is the one which involves the use of multiple UAVS.  I’ll get to that in my next article on the subject.

If you have any questions about UAV, how they work, and why they are safe, feel free to ask in the comments.

~ Fabrizio Schiano