On the 9th of September Chris Anderson, the CEO of the 3DRobotics (3DR) Drone company, gave the keynote speech at the International Drone Conference and Exposition (InterDrone) Conference in Las Vegas on the future of drones.
He discussed the previous democratizing of technologies such as the personal computer and the internet which put powerful tools in the hands of normal people empowering them; and that thanks to drone development remote sensing will develop in the same direction.
With improvement satellites have the potential to reduce their costs in remote sensing by a factor of 1 in 10, while drones have the potential to reduce the costs by a factor of 4 in 10.
The reason that the mobile phone network beat satellite phones is the same reason that drones will beat satellites in recording. Drones have the ability to scale in a way that satellites cannot.
He compared the pros and cons between Satellite, manned aircraft and drones in a hypothetical recording of the American State of Kansas. His model suggested that satellites and drones would have the same setup costs; with 100 satellites costing 100 million dollars and 200,000 drones costing the same amount to capture Kansas on a daily basis.
The satellites have high maintenance costs as they are located in space, while drones have much lower costs while piloted and less when un-piloted.
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The drones have the potential to record a site on the hour every hour.
Also at any one times 2/3 of the planet is under cloud cover making the drones the much better option as they generally fly under the clouds.
He concluded that for mapping 50 hectares the satellites would be the much cheaper option, but for mapping 5 hectares the manned drone is the cheaper option, while the manned aircraft was the worst option in all cases. But autonomous drones operating as a fleet would be the better option all the way up to 500 hectares.
With the development of autonomy drones, rather than doing things in the same way as manned aircraft they could do things in whole new innovative ways.
- Act as unmanned sensors.
- Record every hour on the hour.
- Charge themselves on charging pads.
- Be based in weatherproof boxes.
These technologies are possible now and 3DR support both swarming and fleets.
It could be possible to control 200,000 drones from a web browser a thousand miles away. Both 3DR and DJI are migrating all of their control functions to mobile devices meaning that the platforms can act as connected devices from the start.
The development of the drone can be linked with sales:
- Drones as vehicles – 500 thousand.
- Drones as cameras – 1 million.
- Drones as something bigger – 10-100 million potential.
The drones have the potential to act as sensors connected to the internet almost forgetting about the device, with its data being passed to the cloud.
Potential drone uses
He discussed the potential of drones taking part in a number of the popular modern technological buzzwords:
- Internet of things.
- Big data.
- Reality capture.
- Personal storytelling.
- The democratisation of Hollywood.
- Video age.
- Personal robotics.
- The new near-space race.
He also discussed how drones came about thanks to mobile phone technology and its significant investment in the research and design of the technologies which enable phones to work including GPS, accelerometers as well as their computing technology. The mobile phone industry developed these technologies which allowed the drone industry to begin. The drone is basically a smartphone with propellers.
With improvements in the on-board computing processing power drones now have the ability to us the Robotic Operating System (ROS) allowing the drone industry to draw on the extensive academic developments in AI (Artificial Intelligence), Computer Vision, path-finding and other technologies. With ideas from a number of different industries converging.
The Dronecode project has already brought together a number of open source drone projects under the governance of The Linux Foundation.
- Ardupilot, PX4 and Pixhawk autopilot systems.
- MAVLink (Micro Aerial Vehicle Communication Protocol).
- UAVCAN is a lightweight protocol designed for reliable communication in aerospace and robotic applications via CAN bus.
- ROS – The Robot Operating System (ROS) is a set of software libraries and tools that help you build robot applications.
Cloud based systems such as droneshare and dronedeploy allow both the control and processing of drone data from within the cloud.
Other future directions could include:
- Advanced precision landing capabilities
- On-board HD video streaming support.
- Optical flow and GPS denied navigation.
- Standardized vision processing.
- Obstacle detection and avoidance (LIDAR, IR/thermal).
- Out-of-the-box Search and Rescue capabilities.
The drone has become possibly the most complex consumer product outside of the car industry, and continues to evolve.