Some drones are toy airplanes, others are smart flying machines that can perform tasks for people who control them from the ground. As a subset of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), drones can take video, photos and measurements, as well as deliver items from one location to another. Modern drones are integrated with the internet so that the data they collect can be shared in real-time with remote users.
Understanding the Internet of Drones
The internet of drones (IoD) combines drones and the internet to empower users in multiple ways. Basically, it means IoT sensors are starting to populate low-altitude airspace. In that sense, IoD is simply IoT in the sky. Drones make it possible for sensor omnipresence to blanket the planet’s atmosphere, creating a highly interconnected global village.
Applications of Drones in Various Industries
Commercial drones are now used by retailers to deliver products faster to consumers. At the start of the 2020s, the fastest drones were able to exceed 160 miles per hour but the legal limit set by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is 100 mph. The average drone can travel at 45 mph. Here are ways drones can improve different industries:
- Smart agriculture – Smart drones are perfect tools for farmers to get aerial views of their crops to monitor growth. Using GPS, they can detect specific areas that need more attention. They can take measurements important to agriculture, such as temperature, humidity, sunlight and wind. Farmers are concerned about conserving and maximizing natural resources, but with drones, they will be able to identify and reduce waste. Drones can also be used for agricultural land mapping and spraying agricultural chemicals on crops.
- Mining – One of the best ways drones can help the mining industry is by improving the safety of mining operations. Mining is a dangerous job due to the explosives involved. Drone cameras can help map out safety zones for crew members. Since mines typically take up vast amounts of land, drones can help monitor site conditions to avoid manual inspections that require labor, additional costs, and much more time.
- Construction – A contractor can use a drone to get aerial photos of construction projects to help make the site safer and more efficient. Drones can help crew members detect installation vulnerabilities and complications involved with building layout and roofing. As with mining and other dangerous works, the construction industry can improve with drones facilitating group coordination. Drones can also help locate and limit construction waste.
- Emergency and Delivery Services – The odds of saving lives in emergency situations increase with drones. They can help find a lost or missing child and victims in remote locations. In order for drones to perform this function, they require high-quality communication capabilities and enhanced sky connectivity. Drones can transport disaster relief in the form of food and medicine to victims. It’s actually possible for drones to help rescue victims underwater. They certainly have many more public safety uses following an earthquake, hurricane or tornado.
- Films and TV – Drones are taking cinematography to new heights. They make shooting films and videos from the sky much easier and safer than using a helicopter or a crane. For film producers trying to cut labor costs, smart drones provide precision positioning and moving the camera to get desired elements within the picture frame. Drones have already been used for TV news programs, especially in live pursuits of police chasing suspects. Ultimately, drones allow for automated filmmaking integrated with machine learning software to get the best camera angles and trajectories.
Mechanical Design Requirements
- Drone parts – The drone’s body connects with one, two, three or four propellers for lifting and vertical motion. Drones are typically powered by a motor that draws energy from an intelligent lithium-polymer (LiPo) battery. Drones can also be powered by solar cells, hydro fuel cells and laser beams. The legs of a drone are typically used for antennas, the compass, GPS, and other sensors are embedded in the body, while the camera is typically mounted on a camera platform attached to the body.
- Remote controller – Users control the drone with a remote controller that includes joysticks for direction, similar to a video game. The remote controller may operate from a centralized base station.
- Flight controller – This tiny robot serves as an automated pilot that helps the drone achieve stability in difficult situations. The flight controller gets various signals from sensors.
- MEMS sensors – Micro-electro-mechanical (MEMS) sensors improve flight performance and allow the drone to be controlled accurately by users. The Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU) is the main sensor, as it measures acceleration and rotation of the drone. A drone sensor is typically the size of an ant and can be used to measure barometric pressure and other metrics.
- Accessories – Drones can be equipped with cameras for aerial views, integrated with AI and automation technology. A GPS module allows for satellite communication and determining geolocations.
IoD Infrastructure Requirements
In order for IoD to be effective on a mass scale for businesses and personal use, its infrastructure must be omnipresent, secure and flexible. At the core of the system should be smart technology, in which real-time data can be made available on demand. Ideally, the infrastructure allows for easy integration with new technology.
Cybersecurity should be a top priority for drone owners, as special authentication and key exchange protocols must generate a symmetric security key. Yes, drones can be hacked, much like any form of electronic communication. Remote hijacking with malware is even worse, so developing strong cybersecurity layers cannot be understated or overlooked.
Another IoD requirement is seamless coverage across suburban, urban and rural areas. At the moment, a good percentage of the earth is still not connected to the internet. But any area with at least 4G+ connectivity is sufficient for drone-to-base data sharing. As far as vertical coverage, drones get as high as 30,000 feet, but typically fly between 200 and 400 feet above the ground.
At some point, the drone industry can expect to face complaints about drones equipped with cameras and recorders that create privacy concerns. The smallest drones can fit in a person’s hand and yet can house smart technology and cameras that take hours of video footage.
Others may fear some drones are bound to drop from the sky and injure people, despite the advanced technology. Lost drones, though, can be found by the user through GPS. If skies become saturated with drones, there may be complaints about endangering birds and interfering with natural scenery.
Law enforcement agencies and firefighters are exploring the possibilities of drones and have applied for drone permits with the FAA. If they start deploying hundreds of surveillance drones over a neighborhood to take photos, it could create heated local controversies and the rise of anti-drone laws. It may be true that criminals will have nowhere to hide in a drone-intensive environment, but it raises questions about the privacy of law-abiding citizens.
The FAA controls which drones are allowed to fly and where. But it doesn’t control cybercriminals who are always experimenting with new ways to abuse the internet. Perhaps the worst things that can happen with drones are that they can be hacked and used to terrorize innocent people or misdirected and then stolen by cybercriminals.
Many of these drone challenges are already being addressed by telecom innovators such as Ericsson, which is in the process of conducting advanced experimental drone research. The future of sky-based internet will be the advent of 6G wireless networks, but for now, IoD pioneers are working on 5G enhancements.
Drones are set to play an important role in society as the new “carrier pigeons” of the digital age. In some ways, they can help take the strain off supply chain issues with “alternative transportation.”