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Drones 101: Terminology & Technology

12 Feb
Drones Terminology Technology

BY: Stacey Pisani

Environment / Quality / Safety / Technology Enabled Business Solutions

Comments: No Comments

This is the first article in Kestrel’s Drones 101 series.

Industries like transportation, manufacturing, utilities, mining, construction, oil and gas, and agriculture are crucial to our country’s infrastructure, particularly in a rapidly changing global market. Yet these industrial sectors continually face the challenges of an aging workforce and high-risk job tasks, including exposure to moving freight cars, high-voltage transmission lines, and hazmat materials and risks of slips, trips, falls, maiming and premature death.

Emerging Technology

Fortunately, drones are an emerging technology that offers a solution both to the shrinking workforce and as an additional mitigation tactic for various operational safety needs of heavy industries.

What was once a very niche market, drones are emerging into an important new phase: everyday use of drone technology in the workplace. It’s no longer just tech-savvy companies that are using drones. Enterprise-level Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) operations are becoming a big deal in industry. Organizations ranging from municipalities and agriculture companies to the Fortune 500s are getting involved in drone operations.

In another three to five years, it will potentially make business sense for nearly every major industrial company to incorporate UAS technologies into their operations for two reasons:

  1. Drones are effective at both mitigating risks and increasing operational efficiency.
  2. Drones are a tool that can bolster workforce recruitment and retention efforts.

Terminology & Technology

As drones become more popular and the industry continues to grow, newer and more varied versions of them are hitting the market, making it difficult to keep up with the technology and the related terminology.

If you’ve observed or read anything about drones, you may have noticed a few acronyms thrown around, and that can be a little confusing. Some of the most common terminology includes the following:

  • Drone is used to define just about any type of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV). The term refers to many different types of an unmanned aircraft of various sizes, which are used for multiple functions, ranging from armed forces aircraft to hobbyists taking amateur digital photography.
  • Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) refers to the platform, airframe, or body of the craft you are flying. The term can be used interchangeably with drone.
  • Unmanned Aerial System (UAS) includes the vehicle or aircraft, the controller, and the link(s) that connect them. A small Unmanned Aerial System (sUAS) is a UAS weighing less than 55 pounds at takeoff and landing.

It is best practice to use UAS in formal documents like policies and procedures. If you have a diverse approach that includes both light and heavy drones, then specifying whether a document pertains to sUAS or UAS operations would be optimal, as the regulations vary based on weight, and your operational policies and procedures would need to reflect this.

Types of UAS

While there are variety of drone technologies on the market, the three main types of UAS available in the commercial space are the following:

  1. Multi-rotor UAS is the most popular drone type for both commercial use and for hobbyists. This type of drone is typically less difficult to operate. They offer vertical take-off and landing and the ability to hover, both of which can result in highly detailed data points and targeted insights. Quad-, hexa-, and octo-copters are all available (i.e., 4, 6 or 8 rotors). There are a number of typical use cases of multi-rotor drones, including industrial inspections, aerial mapping, site planning and monitoring, cause finding, resource management, crop spraying and many more.
  1. Fixed-wing UAS function more like an airplane than their multi-rotor counterpart. These drones often resemble small airplanes or mechanical stingrays. They consist of two fixed wings on either side of the craft. This design provides for more efficient aerodynamics and longer flight times (~45-60 min per flight). Fixed-wing have high aerial coverage (up to 2,400 acres per flight) but offer less detailed imagery, are typically unable to hover, and are more suited for covering large areas of land, resulting in large data sets with less detail than you would collect using a multi-rotor or a hybrid UAS. These drones require a suitable runway area for takeoff and landings and are usually able to carry heavier payloads than other types of UAS. Typical uses include beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) operations, photogrammetry and 3D mapping, crop inspections, and other tasks that require significant area coverage.
  1. Hybrid UAS are gaining popularity, as these platforms offer the benefits of a vertical takeoff and landing and the ability to fly quickly in a forward motion to cover larger areas of land, while still having the ability to hover. Hovering allows for close-up inspections and produces more detailed information than a quick fly by. Hybrids range in their load carrying capability. Hybrids can be used in many of the same ways as fixed wings and multi-rotors but are most excitingly known for their use in delivery services and unmanned air taxi applications.

Payloads

In addition to the drone itself, there are many types of payloads, which is a generic term for the cameras, sensors, or other equipment that can be attached to and carried by drones:

  • Specialized cameras are the most often used payloads for drones.
  • Various cameras offer the ability to gather higher resolution images with greater detail.
  • LiDAR units can be attached to gather data points from any work site, which can then be translated into 3D-modeling efforts to aid in volumetric applications.
  • Thermal/infrared cameras provide heat sensing capability.
  • Gas detection cameras detect fugitive gas leaks at pipelines and tanks.
  • Multispectral and hyperspectral sensors are electromagnetic energy sensors that offer insight into details on resources that would otherwise be invisible to the human eye.
  • Environmental sensors (e.g., chemical sensors) can measure chemical compositions and traces of particular chemical substances, including radioactive particles and particulate matter.

Undoubtedly, the types of drones and the payloads will continue to expand as the market and applicability of drones continues to grow.

Learn more about Kestrel’s UAS Program Management services. Stay tuned for the rest of our Drones 101 series, featuring:

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