How drones work
Typical drones are made of lightweight composite materials to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. The strength of this composite material allows military drones to sail at extremely high altitudes. The engineering materials used to make drones are highly complex composite materials designed to absorb vibrations and thereby reduce the sound produced. These materials are very lightweight.
Drones are equipped with technical devices with different functions, such as infrared cameras, GPS and lasers (consumer, commercial and military drones). The drone is controlled by a remote ground control system ( GSC ), also known as the ground cockpit.
The drone system consists of two parts: the drone itself and the control system.
The nose of the drone is where all the sensors and navigation systems are located. The human body compartment is full of drone technology systems, because drones do not require any space to carry humans.
What is drone and drone technology
Below we will explore the science and drone technology behind the DJI Phantom 3 drone. We also have a wealth of information on the latest drone technology from the latest drones on the market.
There are many links that give you a deeper understanding of the various components of drone technology. For example, this is a great overview of drone components. This gives information on the individual components seen in most drones.
Drone type and size
Drones come in a variety of sizes, with the largest drones being used primarily for military purposes, such as ” predator ” drones. Followed by fixed-wing drones, which have fixed wings and require short runways. These are often used to cover large areas of land, to work in areas such as geographic surveys or to combat poaching of wildlife.
Vertical takeoff and landing ( VTOL ) UAV
Another type of drone is the so-called vertical take-off and landing ( VTOL ) drone. These are usually quadcopters, but not all. VTOL UAVs can take off, fly, hover and land vertically. The exact meaning of VTOL is ” vertical takeoff and landing . “
Radar positioning and return
The latest drones have dual global navigation satellite systems ( GNSS ) such as GPS and GLONASS , and recent drones are equipped with China’s Beidou navigation.
Drones can fly in GNSS mode and non-satellite mode. For example, DJI UAV can not use GPS in the P mode ( GPS and the GLONASS ) or ATTI flight mode.
When flying, high-precision drone navigation is very important, especially in drone applications, such as creating 3D maps, measuring landscapes, and SAR (search and rescue) missions.
When the quadcopter is turned on for the first time, it will search for and detect GNSS satellites. High-end GNSS systems use satellite constellation technology. Basically, a satellite constellation is a group of satellites that work together to provide coordinated coverage and synchronization so that they overlap well within coverage. Pass or cover refers to the time period when the satellite is visible above the local horizon.
Radar technology will emit the following signals on the remote control display:
Indicates that enough drone GNSS satellites have been detected and the drone is ready to fly. Displays the current position and position of the drone relative to the pilot. Record ” return ” return point safety function. Most of the latest drones have the following three ” return ” drone technologies:
By pressing a button on the remote control or app, the pilot starts to return home. When the battery power is low, the drone will fly back to the origin automatically. When the drone automatically flew back to its origin, the connection between the drone and the remote control was lost.
The latest Mavic Air RTH technology senses obstacles when returning home automatically.
Obstacle detection and anti-collision technology
The latest high-tech drones are now equipped with anti-collision systems. They use obstacle detection sensors to scan the surrounding environment, and software algorithms and SLAM technology generate images into 3D maps, enabling drones to sense and avoid them. These systems incorporate one or more of the following sensors for sensing and avoidance;
Vision sensor. Ultrasound. infrared. Lidar Time of Flight ( ToF ). Monocular vision.
The latest DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Mavic 2 Zoom feature obstacle sensing on all six sides. The Mavic 2 uses vision and infrared sensors to fuse it into a vision system called omnidirectional obstacle sensing.
DJI Mavic 2 obstacle detection system is the top drone technology. The Mavic 2 will sense objects and fly around obstacles ahead. It can perform the same operation when flying backwards. If you cannot fly over the obstacle, hover.
This technology is called APAS (Advanced Pilot Assistance System) on DJI Mavic 2 and Mavic Air drones .
In December 2019 , the Skydio 2 drone was released. This avoids obstacles in all respects.
Skydio 2 autonomous technology visualizes and calculates what happens around the drone. It can then intelligently predict what will happen next and can make accurate decisions multiple times per second.
The Skydio 2 quadcopter uses a 6 x 4k camera to build a 3D map of the surroundings , including trees, people, animals, cars, buildings, and more.
Gyro stabilization, IMU and flight controller
Gyro stabilization technology enables the drone to have smooth flight capabilities. The gyroscope acts almost immediately against the forces of the drone, keeping it flying or hovering smoothly. The gyroscope provides the necessary navigation information for the central flight controller.
The inertial measurement unit ( IMU ) works by using one or more accelerometers to detect the current acceleration. The IMU uses one or more gyroscopes to detect changes in rotation properties, such as pitch, roll, and yaw. Some IMUs include a magnetometer to assist with calibration for directional drift. Gyroscope IMU components, while the IMU is an important part of the UAV flight controller. The flight controller is the central brain of the drone.
Drone motor orientation and propeller design
Motors and propellers are important components for drone take-off, which can push the drone into the air and fly or hover in any direction. On a quadcopter, the motor and propeller work in pairs with two clockwise motors / propellers ( CW propellers) and two counterclockwise motors ( CCW propellers). They receive data from the flight controller and electronic speed controller ( ESC ) in the direction of the drone motor for hovering or flight.
Screen real-time flight parameters
Almost all drones have a ground station controller ( GSC ) or smartphone app that lets you track current flight telemetry and see what the drone sees on a mobile device.
UAV technology in no-fly zones
To improve flight safety and prevent accidents in restricted areas, the latest drones provided by DJI and other manufacturers have a ” no-fly zone ” feature. Classified according to the no-fly zone regulations and adopted by the Federal Aviation Administration ( FAA ). Manufacturers can use UAV firmware updates to change no-fly zone drone technology.
GPS ready flight mode drone technology
Once the compass is calibrated, it looks for the position of the GPS satellite. When more than 6 are found , it will make the drone fly in ” ready to fly ” mode.
Internal compass and fail-safe features
Let drones and remote control systems know exactly where they are flying. If the drone and the remote control system stop connecting, a home point can be set, which is where the drone will return. This is also called ” fail-safe function ” .
FPV real-time video transmission drone technology
FPV means ” first person perspective ” . The camera is mounted on a drone and broadcasts live video to pilots on the ground. Ground pilots are flying the aircraft as if they were on the plane, rather than looking at the plane from the pilot’s actual ground position. FPV enables drones to fly higher and farther than when viewed from the ground. ” First person perspective ” allows for more precise flight, especially around obstacles. FPV makes drones very easy to fly indoors, around forests or buildings. Without FPV real-time video transmission technology, the drone racing league will not be able to achieve exceptionally rapid development. This FPV technology uses radio signals to send and receive real-time video. The drone has a built-in multi-band wireless FPV transmitter and antenna. Depending on the drone, the receiver of the real-time video signal can be a remote control, computer, tablet or smartphone device. This real-time video input is related to the signal strength between drone ground controls.
The latest DJI Mavic 2 has a 5- mile ( 8 km) FPV real-time video range and 1080p high-quality video transmission. Other older drones, such as the DJI Mavic and Phantom 4 Pro , can transmit up to 4.3 miles ( 7 kilometers) of live video. Phantom 4 Pro and Inspire 2 use the latest DJI Lightbridge 2 transmission system. DJI Mavic and other drones use integrated controllers and intelligent algorithms to set new standards for wireless HD image transmission by reducing latency and increasing maximum range and reliability.
Drone FPV over 4G / LTE network
In 2016 , a new live video was announced that can be transmitted over a 4G / LTE network, providing unlimited range and low latency video. This drone technology is the Sky Drone FPV 2 , which consists of a camera module, a data module, and a 4G / LTE modem.
Drone firmware and flight assistant port
The flight control system communicates with the PC Assistant via a Micro-USB cable . This allows to configure the drone and upgrade the drone firmware.
A very simple description of a drone is that it is a flight computer with a camera or sensor. Like computers, drones also have firmware software that sends commands to physical components in the aircraft or remote control.
Drone manufacturers release firmware upgrades to fix bugs and add new features to aircraft, remote control units or software (if used to fly drones).
Drone LED Flight Indicator
These are located at the front and rear of the drone. Usually, the drone’s LED will be green, yellow or red. The front LED indicator lights up to indicate the drone’s nose. After powering on, the rear LED flight indicator lights up to indicate various states of the drone, firmware upgrade and flight. It is best to know what the blinking LED on a quadcopter indicates. All drones come with user manuals, which list the meaning of each type of flashing LED .
Drone remote control system
On the DJI Phantom 3 , this is a wireless communication device using the 5.8 GHz band. The remote control system is also called ground control. The drone and the ground controller should be paired when they leave the factory.
Drone remote receiver
The 5.8 GHz receiver technology link button is located below the drone. Almost all the latest drones can operate at 2.4 or 5.8 GHz .
Extended range drone technology
This is a wireless communication device that typically operates in the 2.4 GHz frequency. It is used to extend the communication range between smart phones or tablets and drones in accessible open areas. The transmission distance can reach 700 meters. Each range extender has a unique MAC address and network name ( SSID ). Out of the box, the latest DJI drones can fly within 5 miles ( 8 kilometers). Older drones from other top manufacturers cannot fly like DJI drones. However, products such as range extenders are very popular and can further extend the distance.
Smartphone application with ground station function
Today, most drones can be flown via a remote control or a smartphone app, which can be downloaded from Google Play or the Apple Store . The application has full control over the drone.
Each manufacturer will have its own application, such as DJI ‘s Go 4 application.
High-performance cameras carried by drones
The latest drones from DJI , Walkera , Yuneec, and other manufacturers now include cameras that can shoot 4k video film and still images at 12 megapixels.
The cameras used by older drones were not entirely suitable for aerial photography. Due to the wide-angle lens, these aerial shots can cause lens distortion. However, the latest 4k video drones (such as the DJI Mavic series, DJI Inspire 1 , Phantom 3 Professional, and Phantom 4 ) have cameras specifically designed for aerial photography and photography. The DJI Inspire 2 installed with the DJI Zenmuse X7 camera is the most suitable drone for professional aerial photography. When used with the Zenmuse X7 camera, the Inspire 2 image processing system CineCore 2.1 can record videos up to 6k in CinemaDNG / RAW and up to 5.2k in Apple ProRes .
Inspire 2 is used by Hollywood producers. In fact, Inspire 2 captured all aerial and ground photos in movie-like quality in a short film called The Circle .
Drones and zoom cameras
In 2016 , 2017 and 2018 , many integrated gimbals with optical and digital zoom capabilities entered the market.
DJI Innovations has released the Zenmuse Z3 , an integrated aerial camera optimized for still photography. Zenmuse Z3 has a 3.5 optical lens and 2 times digital zoom lens composed of a lossless 7 times zoom, create 22 is to 77 mm equivalent focal length range, well suited for industrial applications.
2016 Nian 10 months, Dajiang Innovation released Zenmuse Z30 camera. This powerful Zenmuse Z30 is an integrated aerial camera, with 30 x optical zoom and 6 x digital zoom, total magnification up to 180 times.
This allows more industrial uses, such as inspecting cellular towers or wind turbines to view structures, wires, modules and components in great detail to detect damage. Zenmuse is compatible with DJI Matrice series drones.
Walkera Voyager 4 is equipped with an incredible 18 times zoom camera. Voyager 4 on 18 optical zoom camera can be 360 -degree panoramic photography. It can shoot 4k movies at 30 frames per second . The high-definition image transmission system uses 3- axis brushless stable gimbal technology. Walkera also released the latest Voyager 5 . It has an incredible 30 x optical zoom camera. Voyager 5 includes redundant systems, such as dual GPS , dual gyroscope, and 3- battery system. It also has an optional infrared camera and low-light night vision camera.
Drone head and tilt control
PTZ technology is essential for capturing high quality aerial photos, film or 3D images. The gimbal allows the camera to tilt in flight, creating a unique angle. What’s more, the gimbal can reduce camera shake. These are mainly 3- axis stable universal joints with 2 working modes . Non- FPV mode and FPV mode. Almost all the latest drones have integrated gimbals and cameras. The leader in aerial gimbal technology is DJI and its Zenmuse series. You can read more about the drone gimbal design here.
Photography drone drone
At CES 2017 , a company called Ambarella announced the H22 chip for drone cameras . The H22 chip allows the camera to shoot 4k HD video and has electronic image stabilization, eliminating the camera’s gimbal.
Drones with sensors create 3D maps and models using sensor fusion
Lidar, multispectral and photogrammetric sensors are being used to build 3D models of buildings and landscapes . Drones use low-light night vision and thermal vision sensors to scan buildings and landscapes to assist agriculture, fire fighting, search and rescue.
Drones can use software that combines data to carry different sensors for better results. This technology is called sensor fusion and it works as follows:
Sensor fusion is software that intelligently combines data from multiple different sensors, such as thermal imagers and conventional RGB camera sensors, to improve application or system performance. Combining data from multiple sensors corrects errors from each sensor to calculate accurate position and orientation information.
For example, multispectral sensors on drones can create digital elevation maps ( DEMS ) of land areas to provide accurate data on the health of crops, flowers, flora, fauna, shrubs and trees.
In 2016 , drones using time-of-flight ( ToF ) sensors were launched on the market. ToF sensors (also known as ” flash lidars ” ) can be used alone or together with RGB and conventional lidar sensors to provide a variety of solutions across departments. ToF depth ranging camera sensors can be used for object scanning, indoor navigation, obstacle avoidance, gesture recognition, tracking objects, measuring volume, response altimeter, 3D photography, augmented reality games, etc.
Flash Lidar time-of-flight cameras have a huge advantage over other technologies because they can measure the distance to objects in the entire scene in a single shot.
For lidar and photogrammetry mapping, use waypoint navigation to program the drone to automatically fly over an area. The camera on the drone will take photos at intervals of 0.5 or 1 second. These photos are then stitched together using specialized photogrammetry software to create 3D images.
DroneDeploy is one of the leaders in 3D mapping software creation. Their mobile applications and real-time maps are being used in various fields to create 3D maps and models. They provide specialized solutions for the agricultural sector, whose software works with most of the latest drones.
It is important to capture high-resolution images on a stable drone. It is also important to use top photogrammetric software to process the images into real maps and models. Some of the top drone mapping software are as follows:
1 , DroneDeploy 3D Mapping Solutions.
2 , Pix4D Mapper Photogrammetry Software.
3 , AutoDesk ReCAP Photogrammetry Software.
4 , Maps Made the Easy – Orthophoto and 3D Models.
5 , 3DF Zephyr Photogrammetry Software.
6 , Agisoft PhotoScan Photogrammetry Software.
7 , PrecisionHawk Precision Mapper / Viewer.
8 , Open Drone the Map.
9 , ESRI Drone2Map the For ArcGIS.
You can read reviews about the drone mapping software mentioned above in the article about the best photogrammetry software for 3D mapping.
Drone anti-lost kit
Help the stabilizer and camera stay connected to the drone.
Drone video editing software
Having high-quality video software is essential for post-processing. Most of the latest drones can be shot with Adobe DNG raw , which means that all raw image information will be retained for later processing.
Operating systems in drone technology
Most drones use Linux and some MS Windows . The Linux Foundation launched a project called the Dronecode Project in 2014 .
The Dronecode project is an open source, which brings together existing and future open source drone projects under a non-profit structure governed by the Linux Foundation. The result is a universal shared open source platform for drones.
Drone security and hacking
Drones are like flying computers in some ways. With the help of programmable operating systems, flight controllers and motherboards, they can also be compromised. The drone was developed to look for other drones and invade the drone’s wireless network, disconnect the owner and take over the drone. However, there are some practical ways to protect your drone from hackers.
The latest innovations in drones
DJI has tremendous command over the consumer and professional drone markets. The following are the latest advanced drones with patented technology;
Skydio 2- One of the best tracking drones in the price range.
DJI Mavic Mini- the best micro drone on the market. Weighs only 249 g ( 8.78 oz) can 2.7k shoot ( 2720. × 1530 , / 25 / 30P ).
DJI Mavic 2-Pro and Zoom models are available. Both have 4k cameras, and have anti-collision features on all sides.
Mavic 2 Enterprise DJI ( M2E ) – zoom or camera model. Includes special accessories such as beacons, spotlights and speakers. Designed for search and rescue or similar tasks.
DJI Mavic Air- This is a small professional drone. It has a 4k camera and the flight is very stable. With the function of avoiding collision. It can also fly using gestures and has facial recognition technology.
DJI Phantom 4 Pro- with ” visual ” collision avoidance technology. Multi-purpose drone, including 4k aerial photography, photogrammetry and photogrammetry.
DJI Inspire 2- Patented design and motor. Multipurpose drone for professional 5k aerial photography, photography, photogrammetry, multispectral and thermal imaging.
Yuneec Typhoon H Pro- Uses patented Intel “Realsense” anti-collision technology. Ideal for professional aerial photography and photography.
Walkera Voyager 5-Walkera ‘s latest drone is awesome. Camera options include 30 optical zoom, infrared cameras and night vision cameras.
Walkera Vitus Starlight-Walkera ‘s latest small consumer drone with anti-collision sensor and low-light night vision camera.
DJI Matrice 600- This is a commercial multi-rotor aircraft, a true aerial photography platform with the option to install 7 different Zenmuse cameras.
DJI Matrice 200 commercial Quadcopter – having a bi-cell, an IMU redundancy and satellite navigation systems. You can install 2 cameras (for example, thermal camera and zoom camera) under a quadcopter. Similarly, installing a camera on top of the Matrice 200 makes it easy to measure bridges. Using ToF laser, ultrasonic and vision sensors, the Matrice 200 has 6 directions to avoid collisions.
UAV Intelligent Flight System
All these latest drones have intelligent flight controllers and modes, such as ” follow me ” , ” active tracking ” , ” waypoint ” , ” return home ” and so on. DJI ‘s Phantom 4 Pro has the most autonomous intelligent flight mode among drones. Phantom 4 Pro has the following intelligent flight modes;
1. Active track (contour, spotlight, circle).
2. Draw waypoints.
3 , TapFly .
4. Terrain tracking mode.
5. Tripod mode.
6. Gesture mode.
7 , S mode (sports).
8 , P mode (position).
9 , A mode (attitude).
10. Beginner mode.
11. Course lock.
12 , home lock.
13. Avoid obstacles.
One of the most exciting drone technologies is the ability to track objects (people, vehicles, boats), especially in the field of outdoor sports, such as running, cycling, skiing, etc. The latest drone with excellent tracking capabilities is Mavic 2 , and the latest Skydio 2 can track so well that it will never lose contact with the object being tracked.
These drones use their vision systems, detection sensors, GNSS systems, flight controllers, central processing systems, and specific software to track their targets with 100 accuracy.
There are several technologies for tracking drones, and you can learn more about the best tracking of drones and their tracking systems here.
Drones have many great uses. When you install a camera or sensor (such as LiDAR , Thermal , ToF or Multispectral ), the range of use of the drone will continue to expand. This is a great list of drones.
In the years to come, drones will change our cities, revolutionizing the way people travel, the way goods are delivered, and the way buildings look and build.
Learn to build and code drones
These educational drones are very affordable and have everything you need to build and code them. You can learn about these top educational drones here.
The two medium-sized military drones currently in use are MQ-1B Predator and MQ-9 Reaper . These are widely used in Afghanistan and Pakistan. UAV technology the most expensive, the most expensive Northrop – Grumman, Raytheon and L3 Comm produced RQ-Free Join Hawk. 4 . It costs about $ 100 million. The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a high-altitude, durable UAV system with an integrated sensor suite that provides intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance ( ISR ) capabilities worldwide .
I’m fascinated by drone technology and its use in everyday life, which can help save lives for search and rescue, site surveys in many industries, aerial photography or just entertainment for amateurs. Until a few years ago, many technologies for military drones entered consumer and commercial drones. In the past few years, we have seen significant investments in drones, especially in the commercial and consumer drones. Drone technology and innovation have indeed taken a leap in the past few years.