USES OF DRONES
UAVs perform a wide variety of functions. The majority of these functions are some form of remote sensing; this is central to the reconnaissance role most UAVs fulfill. Less common UAV functions include interaction and transport.
- Remote sensing
UAV remote sensing functions include electromagnetic spectrum sensors, gamma ray sensors, biological sensors, and chemical sensors. A UAV's electromagnetic sensors typically include visual spectrum, infrared, or near infrared cameras as well as radar systems. Other electromagnetic wave detectors such as microwave and ultraviolet spectrum sensors may also be used but are uncommon. Biological sensors are sensors capable of detecting the airborne presence of various microorganisms and other biological factors. Chemical sensors use laser spectroscopy to analyze the concentrations of each element in the air.
- Commercial aerial surveillance
Aerial surveillance of large areas is made possible with low cost UAV systems. Drones can be operated 24/7 relaying real-time images of battles on the ground. Surveillance applications include livestock monitoring, wildfire mapping, pipeline security, home security, road patrol, and anti-piracy. The trend for the use of UAV technology in commercial aerial surveillance is expanding rapidly with increased development of automated object detection approaches.
- Domestic policing
UAVs are increasingly used for domestic police work in Canada and the United States. A dozen US police forces had applied for UAV permits by March 2013. Texas politician and commentator Jim Hightower has warned about potential privacy abuses from aerial surveillance. In February 2013, Seattle Mayor Michael McGinn responded to protests by scrapping the Seattle Police Department’s plan to deploy UAVs.
- Oil, gas and mineral exploration and production
UAVs can be used to perform geophysical surveys, in particular geomagnetic surveys where the processed measurements of the Earth's differential magnetic field strength are used to calculate the nature of the underlying magnetic rock structure. A knowledge of the underlying rock structure helps trained geophysicists to predict the location of mineral deposits. The production side of oil and gas exploration and production entails the monitoring of the integrity of oil and gas pipelines and related installations. For above-ground pipelines, this monitoring activity could be performed using digital cameras mounted on one or more UAVs. The In View Unmanned Aircraft System is an example of a UAV developed for use in oil, gas, and mineral exploration and production activities.
UAVs can transport goods using various means based on the configuration of the UAV itself. Most payloads are stored in an internal payload bay somewhere in the airframe. For many helicopter configurations, external payloads can be tethered to the bottom of the airframe. With fixed-wing UAVs, payloads can also be attached to the airframe, but aerodynamics of the aircraft with the payload must be assessed. For such situations, payloads are often enclosed in aerodynamic pods for transport.
- Scientific research
Unmanned aircraft are especially useful in penetrating areas that may be too dangerous for manned aircraft. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began utilizing the Aerosonde unmanned aircraft system in 2006 as a hurricane hunter. AAI Corporation subsidiary Aerosonde Pty Ltd. of Victoria, Australia, designs and manufactures the 35-pound system, which can fly into a hurricane and communicate near-real-time data directly to the National Hurricane Center in Florida. Beyond the standard barometric pressure and temperature data typically culled from manned hurricane hunters, the Aerosonde system provides measurements far closer to the water’s surface than previously captured. Further applications for unmanned aircraft can be explored once solutions have been developed for their accommodation within national airspace, an issue currently under discussion by the Federal Aviation Administration. UAVSI, the UK manufacturer, also produces a variant of their Vigilant light UAS (20 kg) designed specifically for scientific research in severe climates, such as the Antarctic.
There have also been experiments with using UAVs as a construction and artwork tool at locations such as the ETH Zurich.
- Armed attacks
Some drones are hunter killer drones. The MQ-1 Predator UAVs armed with Hellfire missiles are increasingly used by the U.S. as platforms for hitting ground targets. Armed Predators were first used in late 2001 from bases in Pakistan and Uzbekistan, mostly aimed at assassinating high profile individuals (terrorist leaders, etc.) inside Afghanistan. Since then, there have been many reported cases of such attacks taking place in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia.
- Search and rescue
UAVs will likely play an increased role in search and rescue in the United States. This was demonstrated by the use of UAVs during the 2008 hurricanes that struck Louisiana and Texas. Micro UAVs, such as the Aeryon Scout, have been used to perform Search and Rescue activities on a smaller scale, such as the search for missing persons. For example, Predators, operating between 18,000–29,000 feet above sea level, performed search and rescue and damage assessment. Payloads carried were an optical sensor, which is a daytime and infrared camera in particular, and a synthetic aperture radar (SAR). The Predator's SAR is a sophisticated all-weather sensor capable of providing photographic-like images through clouds, rain or fog, and in daytime or nighttime conditions, all in real-time. A concept of coherent change detection in SAR images allows for exceptional search and rescue ability: photos taken before and after the storm hits are compared, and a computer highlights areas of damage.
- Forest fire detection
Another application of civil UAVs is the prevention and early detection of forest fires. The chief exponent of this type is the FT-ALTEA, developed by Flightech Systems. The possibility of constant flight, both day and night, makes the methods used until now (helicopters, watchtowers, etc.) become obsolete. Its payload consists of numerous cameras (HD, thermal, hyperspectral, etc.) and multiple sensors that provide real-time emergency services, including information about the location of the outbreak of fire as well as many factors (wind speed, temperature, humidity, etc.) that are helpful for fire crews to conduct fire suppression.
Drones are being used not only for amateur or professional photographers but also by hobbyist who want to have a feel of flying smaller drones (toy drones)or who want to kill time. The technology is arriving and getting into the hands of airbone anarchist. A Mexican native, Mr. Munoz married an American citizen and moved to Riverside, Calif., in 2007. While waiting for his green card, the 21-year-old was marooned in his apartment, unable to work, attend school or obtain a driver’s license.
On the other hand, he had an Internet connection. A Nintendo Wii. A radio-controlled toy helicopter his mother had given him to help kill time.
Tinkering with the Wii’s control wand and a $60 gyroscope he had purchased on eBay, he modified the helicopter to fly itself, just like the $5 million Predator unmanned aerial vehicles deployed by the U.S. military.
In the future, UAVs may be able to perform a variety of unique tasks apart from what they are capable of today. But the future is now, so its possible that future drones exist already. Engineers are currently working to produce remotely piloted UAVs that are capable of air to air combat, aerial refueling, combat search and rescue with facial recognition, and resupply to agents on the ground.