Drones 101

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Since the beginning of time we have looked up in the sky and watched birds fly in amazement. We have inspired to soar into the clouds and built fascinating aircraft to fulfill this dream. This achievement has not been cheap nor easy, but with the advancement in technology we have now entered the age of drones and unmanned vehicles. The future is here, we are witnessing the evolution of flight.

Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAV) or more commonly known as drones have been in military and civilian use for many years. However, what started as a hobby has gained steam and quickly turned into a global need. We shall highlight the technology, future trends and regulations and hope to provide enthusiasts a learner’s guide.
An aerial vehicle, as the name suggests, needs to be airborne and remain in flight. Conventional methods in the past involved a pilot commandeering a fixed wing aircraft from a runway to its destination. The fixed wing aircraft soon evolved into rotary wing aircraft, commonly known as helicopters that allow vertical take-off and landing (VTOL). A hybrid of the two systems is in the works where aircraft will have vertical take-off and airplane like properties during flight.

A paradigm shift has occurred in recent years where airborne vehicles are piloted from the ground by radio control and autopilot systems. This in turn has opened the door to many new possibilities where equipment have been drastically scaled down and people are not put in harm’s way in dangerous situations.

Aerial systems require state of the art technology in every aspect. Turncircles is dedicated to advance this technology one step further. We are striving to be at the forefront of new ideas and respond to the developing needs of today’s commercial and security drone users.
All objects that are put to the task of flying need to be lightweight and aerodynamic in order to achieve flight and to be efficient. To best understand the mechanics of flight we must look at nature and analyze how birds and insects achieve such a fascinating phenomenon.

four vital components detrimental to flight

We can list the four vital components detrimental to flight as:

  • Thrust (motor efficiency)
  • Aerodynamics
  • Materials (lightweight composites)
  • Power Source
The Turncircles team along with our global technology partners has made significant advancements in the essential areas of motor technology, electromechanics and carbon fiber reinforced parts. The three key elements most demanded by UAV operators are endurance/flight time, range and electro-optics. We will try to highlight each one and discuss what is behind the technology that allows better performance.

The UAV itself is a combination of advanced electronic and mechanical parts that work in tandem to provide a safe and smooth flight. The electronic components are comprised of the Flight Controller, Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC), Battery and Electro-optics. The most important mechanical parts are the Motors, Gimbal and the Body of the aircraft; the airframe.
Let us examine these parts and their functions in detail:

Ground Control Station

A UAV is operated by a Ground Control Station (GCS). This device may be in the form of a simple, off the shelf Radio Controller that uses multiple channels to send RF signals to manipulate a drone’s movements. More complicated systems allow the operator to choose waypoints on a map and carry out autonomous flight patterns. This is especially helpful when carrying out sensitive coordinate based flight missions and covering large areas or long distances (beyond visual range) for digital mapping, surveillance and search & rescue missions (SAR).

Flight Controller

Flight Controller is what we consider the brain of the system. It sends and receives information to and from the GCS. It is connected to an RF receiver, a Global Positioning System (GPS) antenna and a Payload, commonly in the form of a camera gimbal. The flight controller is dedicated to provide a stable flight at all times. Systems equipped with GPS antennas can hold altitude and hover at any given position without having to rely on operator commands. These systems can also provide a map based autopilot flight control where operators can designate way points along with flight altitude and flight paths on a Google based map interface. There are several flight controllers on the market aimed at novice and professional users, ranging in price and complexity. Commonly used systems are NAZA, WOOKONG and A2 made by DJI along with several open source flight controllers such as ARDUPILOT (APM), PIXHAWK by 3D Robotics and SNAPDRAGON by Qualcomm. These vary in their complexity, accuracy and ease of use.

Electronic Speed Controllers (ESC)

Once again these also come in different varieties ranging in voltage, algorithm and quality. It is essential to match the correct ESC to the motor and voltage used on the system. As the name suggests, the ESC controls the RPM to maintain the required altitude, speed or flight angle.

Battery

Battery (Energy Source) technology has made huge leaps in recent years where the amount of Watts/Gram of battery is ever increasing. The high amounts of energy demanded by UAVs limit flight time and have pushed developers to search for innovative ways to reduce energy consumption. Available energy sources include Gas/Diesel/Nitro combustion engines, electric battery powered systems that use Lithium Polymer (Lipo) or Lithium Ion (Li-ion) batteries. There are new experiments being conducted using Fuel Cell technology or hybrid systems. Each one has an advantage or disadvantage over the other. Petroleum based fuels store a lot of energy but the engines are heavy due to their structure. Lipo batteries have better charge/discharge values compared to Li-ion batteries but weigh more in comparison. This is where motor efficiency plays an important role in determining the type and size of batteries used.

Electro-optics

The payload carried by most UAVs has one or more forms of a camera system incorporated into a 3 axis gimbal. These systems may include a daytime zoom camera or a thermal night vision camera, made by the market leader Flir. Other payloads include lidar and multispectral cameras for digital mapping and topographic analysis offered by companies such as Micasense.

Motors

Motors provide the thrust necessary to propel an aircraft up and in the direction we wish to fly. Airplanes use airfoils to create pressure differences around the wings that allow lift to the aircraft. Multirotor VTOL aircraft, on the other hand, use a similar technique but without the use of wings for neither lift nor steering. Instead, they rely on a combination of efficient motors with matching propellers to stay airborne. Efficiency is one of the key components in selecting a motor; because it will determine how much fuel you will consume. Efficiency being one factor, a drone manufacturer should keep in mind that every gram added will reduce the drone's flight duration. Currently there are high quality UAV motors being manufactured by Tiger Motors, KDE-Direct, Hacker Motor to name a few. What they all have in common is being a brushless outrunner DC motor which is heavy by nature. At Turncircles we work on a different kind of technology introducing various innovations to save excessive weight and increase motor efficiency (power to weight ratio). This will have a positive effect on the flight mechanics, stability and above all flight duration!

We encourage you to contact us directly for further information on UAV technology and details on our capabilities.