The oil and gas industry has come to rely on commercial drones for inspection and data-gathering purposes in recent years. As early as 2014, the petroleum company BP received FAA authorization to use commercial drones to monitor its facilities. Since then, the number of drones, pilots, and services that cater to these industries has grown exponentially. Durable professional drone designs that are equipped with the latest high-definition and advanced thermal cameras, as well as specialized sensors, can be useful for a wide variety of oil and gas applications.
Drones have already been used to perform pipeline inspections over large areas including terrain that previously required the use of manned helicopters. Inspections at on- and off-shore operations have historically required costly shutdowns as well as the use of risky rope access and scaffolding methods that put workers at risk. Inspections can be completed in a manner that is more cost-effective, productive, quick, and safe by manually-piloted or automated drones.
Ewatt X36 Optical Zoom Pod
Ewatt High Altitude Lighting Module
Ewatt 3 Axis X10 Optical Zoom Pod
Ewatt S8 or D6 Tool Kit
Oil and Gas Drone Components
The types of industrial drones that are used in the oil and gas industry are outwardly similar to commercial or professional drones. A professional drone such as one of the offerings in the DJI Matrice series has comparable core components and flight times to drones used for commercial or industrial applications. Many services that specialize in supplying oil and gas companies with drones or aerial imaging services and data gathering offer packages that include top-level models from respected brands that also manufacture consumer drones. There are also some specialized drone makers that specialize in their own unique industrial drone designs and software for use in specific industries.
In general, drones that are intended for use in the oil and gas industry or for similar industrial purposes are capable of achieving relatively lengthy flight times. These drones feature powerful cameras for high-resolution imaging consisting of stills and video footage and often also feature thermal cameras for obtaining more complete data below the visible surface. Common uses for drones in this industry include monitoring the conditions and flow between upstream systems, midstream infrastructure, and downstream facilities for leaks or any signs of infrastructural damage such as corrosion or rust. Thermal energy can be used to detect the distribution of natural gas in a piping system and detect pitting. These drones can also be equipped with optical airborne gas sensors or precision laser measurement hardware to allow them to obtain nearly any necessary type of inspection data.
Advantages and Challenges
There are many significant advantages to performing inspections and other essential imaging and monitoring tasks using commercial drones. These advantages are maximized when the drones that are being used are equipped with specialized hardware and sensors that enable them to provide the most useful data for designated analysts at companies in the oil and gas industry. For one, drones that are piloted either by humans or by algorithms are much more cost-effective and safe than relying on helicopters, ropes, or scaffolding for inspections.
The use of drones can all but eliminate risk for human inspectors and workers as well as the need to temporarily shut down facilities for inspection. As a result, inspections can be performed with a greater frequency under standard operating conditions. This can allow for a greater degree of preventative maintenance as opposed to responses to anomalies that have already advanced to the point that they are causing environmentally detrimental leaks and expensive and potentially dangerous downtimes.
Fleets of drones can also be used to enhance the security of equipment, property, resources, and technology on a daily basis Companies in the oil and gas sector that decide to depend on drones can obtain more data with greater frequency than they otherwise could and more than any competitors that are not yet capable of these constant and refined observations. Given the proper analysis of these data sets, this information can be used to generate more effective and profitable operational, maintenance, and security plans and protocols. Depending on whether a company would prefer to invest in the capacity to perform perpetual independent drone imaging or simply have this option from an on-call service, they can work with contractors and suppliers to achieve the right drone solutions for maximizing safety and savings.
Some of the major challenges that still exist when it comes to the use of drones in the oil and gas industry include durability and flight time. Drone design and materials are becoming increasingly resilient and innovative systems are also being created to charge and shelter these devices. One system includes so-called pit stops or charging points located along flight routes to increase the distance capacity of each drone. These systems could work with either manual or automated drones. In at least one instance, this system consists of weather-shielded domes that protect drones and can allow them to charge if they run out of power or conditions become unsuitable for a continued flight for any reason.
Other companies and aerial imaging services provide fleets of drones that can be assigned to cover small portions of vast areas, capturing footage and data simultaneously. This strategy allows for the full inspection of an area such as a large tank farm or length of pipeline in far less time than a single drone, even with charging points or extended flight times. Any drone-based inspection is likely to be more affordable and fast and less risky than traditional manned methods.
Given the rapid pace of drone development over the last several years, it may become feasible for companies or firms to depend on fewer or more specialized drones to perform inspection tasks with fewer resources and greater efficiency. There is also likely to be widespread growth and development in the generation of drone and fleet flying algorithms and software that will empower companies to take the creation of complex large-scale flight plans into their own hands or all-but-completely automate data and imagery gathering missions.
Continued developments in the field of automated flight raise the prospect of a future in which commercial drones are used all of the time for monitoring and inspection in the oil and gas industry and many other commercial and industrial markets. Some firms already specialize in helping companies in this sector determine the right drone solutions for their needs and launch fleets that are controlled by customized algorithms or easy-to-use cloud-based flying and data management software. Human pilots will be gradually phased out as a full range of inspection and information-gathering procedures become automated all the way up to and beyond the level of data analysis. More frequent data readings should allow for further refinement of information-gathering mechanisms and more thorough observations over time.
The use of commercial drones in the oil and gas industry at present is laying the foundation for a future in which companies in this sector are capable of affordably taking the proactive steps necessary to prevent leaks and other adverse or anomalous events that can lead to environmental disasters on land or at sea. Drones greatly facilitate the monitoring and maintenance processes and are capable of offering support for emergency response and containment initiatives. Taken together, all of these capacities help to make on-shore or offshore platforms, pipelines, and other facilities safer for human workers by allowing for the condition of vital infrastructure to be closely monitored in addition to changing conditions.
Matrice 100 Ready to Fly Bundle Kit With Guidance System + X3 Camera
DJI Matrice 200 Quadcopter
DJI Matrice 210 RTK-G
Matrice 600 Pro Flying Platform
Reduce Risk and Raise Profits
Regardless of whether the drones that an oil and gas company uses are manual or automated, they are still a significant step toward safer operations. It is likely that drone monitoring and inspection will become standard operating procedure in this and many other industries given the amount of money that can be saved through preventative maintenance and reduction of many risks formerly posed to human workers. Drones are likely to find their most practical uses in this type of highly-specialized large-scale imaging and data gathering work.
The benefits of reduced risks and costs are perhaps most pronounced for oil and gas operations. According to a study undertaken by the UK oil and gas firm Fircroft, drone inspections can be up to 85% faster and cheaper than standard oil platform inspection techniques. It is also the case that substantial savings are achieved by the simple fact that a platform or rig does not need to be shut down prior to drone inspection as it would need to be for human inspectors relying on precarious methods such as ropes and scaffolding. Another company involved in oil and gas applications has found that using drones for flare stack inspections can result in more than one million dollars in recovered production costs. The ability to safely continue operations during inspections can pave the way to more regular inspections and safer operations.
Drones are the most technologically-adept and efficient method for monitoring the status of oil and gas equipment and infrastructure at every part of the extraction and refining process. As drones become more common in this industry and for a wide variety of other commercial and industrial applications, it will lead the way to a safer and more productive environment for resource extraction and refinement.
When it comes to drone capability, strength and speed, professional drones are top of the line. Manufacturers design these machines to appeal to industries where they would not only be convenient but necessary. From the film industry to survey farmers, professionals know how to put these drones to work. As technology advances, drones become more and more capable.
Professional drones are generally higher quality than the toy drones enthusiasts use for recreation. Manufacturers build these hardier and with extra features that are suited for agriculture, film, utility companies and more. As drones gain in popularity, the businesses that have something to gain from them also grow in number.
There is one business, however, where you’ll see drones soaring high! Here is what you need to know about drones and the agriculture business.
Ewatt S8 Coaxial Multi-Rotor Aircraft
Ewatt D6 Long-Endurance Hexacopter Aircraft
Ewatt E2 Workhorse Fixed Wing Aircraft
Ewatt 3D Modeling and Mapping 5 Angle Camera
Drone Use in Agriculture
When it comes to agriculture, drones have found a natural place in the business. Farmers cannot be everywhere at once. However, with a drone, they are able to survey their land with real-time information. Farming involves keeping track of many different components. From crop health, water use and soil analysis, farmers have a lot to keep track of. In the past, before drones were a major asset to farming, people invested in plane surveillance. Planes can’t be used as often and at the expense of manned aircraft, farmers tend to use data surveillance by plane sparingly. Drones, on the other hand, can survey the land on a daily or weekly basis.
When used, these drones can complete a variety of jobs on farms and ranches. Here are just some of the tasks that they are capable of:
- Diagnosing problems with plants
- Imaging that can determine water efficiency
- Imaging for soil erosion predictions
- Imaging of pest infestations
- Crop dusting
One interesting fact to keep note of is that you can use a drone with a near-infrared sensor to determine stress in plants. Plants can show signs that they are in distress before you’ll see any signs of physical damage. This gives you an upper hand and ability to try to save your plants before any permanent damage occurs. Additionally, farmers may use the sensors to identify soil damage or erosion. When you have problems with your land or crops, it’s important to know about it in advance so that you can plan further ahead.
When you have the time to make a plan, then you have a chance to save your crops and maximize your productivity. Drones make it possible for you to gather extra information in a fast and convenient way. Your eyes aren’t going to be able to tell you when a plant is in distress or when there’s unseen soil damage. Drones are fast, convenient and highly effective.
Take for example how the agricultural industry uses thermal imagining to determine whether a farm is watered adequately. Keep in mind that watered areas tend to be cooler than the areas that are not. A great drone to use for this purpose is the DJI Inspire 1. Not only is it fitted with thermal imagining but it also has 3D mapping and crop monitoring capabilities.
Fixed Wing Drones
Fixed wing drones are preferred by the agricultural industry. This is because their batteries tend to last longer and they can survey larger expanses of land. This is better in terms of surveillance and data collection over a large area. Fixed wing drones fly higher and spend more time in the air than a multi-rotor drone. Since these are also larger and can carry more, they are often equipped with more sensors. This allows ranchers and farmers to get more work done. When it comes to this type of drone, they tend to look more like airplanes with a large wingspan.
Here are two common fixed-wing commercial drones for agriculture:
PrecisionHawk Lancaster 5
With high stability, the Lancaster 5 is a sturdy fixed-wing drone. On board, it has sensors that can measure temperature, air pressure, and humidity. It can also respond to the changing weather conditions. With an in-flight monitoring system, you can monitor its battery life, altitude, and position from home. It is also capable of 2D and 3D mapping.
- 45 minute flight time
- 4.9 FT wingspan
- 300 acres survey area per flight
- 12-16 m/s cruise speed
- 5.3 LBS
Sensefly eBee SQ
The Sensefly eBee SQ is practical for data collection. In one flight, you can capture the soil temperature, H20 levels and plant counts. Additionally, it is capable of 3D mapping.
- 55 minute flight time
- 110 cm wingspan
- 500-acre survey area per flight
- 28 mph cruise speed
- 2.4 LBs
Multi-Rotor drones are also a good choice for farmers, especially when you want a drone with more control. These drones have more than two rotors for flying. This can be especially helpful for beginners. Now, when you want to fly your drone low to the ground or need it to fit into smaller places, the multi-rotor is more advantageous. For many farmers, the type of drone that you choose depends on the size of your farm and your level of skill with a drone.
Here are two common multi-rotor drones:
DJI Phantom 4 PRO
This is an easy-to-use beginner agricultural drone. With the Sentera’s NSVI upgrade, it is capable of capturing high-resolution color. This is a great way for a farmer to determine the health of their land. Predominately used for scouting, it is a hardy agricultural drone.
- 30 minute flight time
- 4.3-mile transmission distance
- 45 mph cruise speed
- 2.94 LBs
SOLO AGCO Edition UAV
This drone contains high-resolution mapping software that farmers can utilize on their properties. With two cameras, the aerial mapping is not only possible but is also easy to carry out. This is a great drone for those who need to scout.
- 20 minute flight time
- 55 mph cruise speed
- 2 customized cameras
- Automatic takeoff
When you purchase a drone, they can come with many different features and add-ons for the specific tasks you need. If you need a higher resolution camera or specific imaging, it’s possible to customize your drone to fit your needs.
Many farmers and ranchers have an extensive amount of property in which large herds of animals can roam. In this case, it may be difficult for farmers or their work animals to monitor the herd at all times. Drones are lightweight, fast, and can follow herds wherever they roam. Not only do they have a live tracking system, but also professional, commercial drones for agriculture can feed live video to your laptop or smartphone.
In addition, a drone equipped with infrared or night vision will be able to see your animals even when you can’t. Cows, for instance, have a tendency to hide in forested areas, under the canopies of trees. With the right infrared technology, you’ll be able to see them through the trees when you might not have been able to find them yourself. It won’t be long before drones are a staple of animal agriculture. These devices can be used to raising and managing livestock. In fact, if you need a solid herding tool, drones can perform that too.
While they continue to develop and better the technology, there is a future for drones in agriculture, especially when it comes to working with the animals themselves.
What Makes Drones Better?
New technology can be daunting. Despite having been on the market since the 90s, drones have only started gaining real popularity in the last several years. Don’t be like some people in the industry, however, and be too nervous to take that leap! It’s worth it in the long run and we can tell you why.
First, consider the price. To use other aerial methods can cost a lot of money. From manned aircraft to satellites, you are paying too much for aerial pictures. Drones cost less money; their imaging is by far cheaper.
Second, they have offer more precision when it comes to picture taking. Why spend extra money on images that won’t turn out as well
Here are a few other benefits of drones:
- Detects pests and other problems quicker due to frequent surveying
- Can scout the entirety of a field
- Images can be used to calculate the size of hills and holes.
Commercial drones for agriculture will continue to gain in popularity. For one farmer or an entire team to keep track of plant and animal health can be exhausting and in some cases a losing battle. People can only do so much. Many farmers end up surveying the perimeter of their land, rather than being able to visualize every part of it. Even if you could, it would not be something that you could take part in every day. Drones offer more of a guarantee. They are an investment that can change the face of agriculture and save money in the end. These drones could be yours and all you have to do is make sure you have the battery life.
From simple images, 3D mapping, to infrared technology, the drone has few tasks unfit for it.
If you are a drone enthusiast, then you may be looking for ways to make the activity more exciting than simply hovering your device around the park. To meet this demand and to use drones to their fullest potential, several drone racing leagues have popped up all over the world in recent years. Rotorcross was the first professional league to form, and it was based out of New Zealand and Australia.
The sport is relatively straightforward. Competitors race their devices through a course, which may be filled with obstacles, and try to be the first to cross the finish line. Operators see what is going on throughout the course with the aid of a camera strapped to the drone itself. Therefore, people see what the drone “sees.”
There are several different leagues involved with competitive drone racing. Arguably the most famous is the Drone Racing League. However, other popular organizations include:
- X Class Drone Racing
- Europen Rotor Sports Association
- Drone Sports Association
- Canadian Federation for Drone Racing
- TOS FPV Racing Club
- World Drone Prix
- DR1 Racing
DRL is quickly becoming the most prominent racing league, and it has broadcasted competitions over Sky Sports and ESPN. In the near future, it could very well become the NASCAR of drone racing.
Technically, almost any type of drone can be raced, but the exact equipment necessary will depend on the league you are in. For example, DRL supplies drones to competitors as well as any backup part in the event of a crash. However, for other leagues, such as DR1 Racing, competitors will need to supply their own drones and are responsible for supplying any replacement parts.
The most important feature is that the item needs to have a camera on the nose. Images captured by the camera are transmitted to a monitor or goggles possessed by the pilot. This transmission is sent through radio waves. Generally, goggles required to race can be acquired for anywhere between $50 and $500. However, the more expensive pieces tend to come with extra features that can be beneficial on the course. These features include DVR, head tracking and a wider field of view.
About the Drone Racing League
As the most prominent league currently in existence, any serious competitor will want to try to get into the DRL. This organization was started by Nicholas Horbaczewski and Dan Kanes. Horbaczewski is the former Chief Revenue Officer of Tough Mudder while Kanes came up with the original concept for the sport. Justice Laub also helped bring the league to fruition by handling the marketing and business development components of the job. The league received a lot of initial funding through Lux Capital and RSE Ventures. Another early investor for Stephen Ross, owner of the Miami Dolphins.
The first season of the sport launched in early 2016. Bud Light and Toy State sponsored the games, and the races took place at various locations across the United States. Some of the featured venues included the Miami Dolphins Stadium, a Detroit auto plant and an abandoned mall in Los Angeles. The races were broadcast in dozens of countries, and 75 million individuals tuned in either through TV or online.
The second season saw great expansion. The sponsors for the 2017 event were the U.S. Air Force, Amazon Prime, FORTO Coffee Shots and Allianz. Jordan “Jet” Temkin, who won the first season, also took home first place this time around. The courses themselves saw an international expansion, and this time, courses were located in the United States, London, and Munich.
One noteworthy aspect of DRL is the fact they require all pilots to race the same drones. The reason for this is to ensure the person who wins is the person who flew best. This prevents a pilot from winning simply because he or she had a more technologically-advanced piece of equipment.
Many courses throughout the various leagues test a pilot’s ability to maneuver a drone in a number of styles. Here are some of the most common types of courses and what they are meant to test.
- Speed: These courses are all about testing a pilot’s ability to fly the drone as fast as possible. You will need to be able to find the fastest lane at all costs to come in first.
- Turns: These courses have a few more twists, turns, and curves throughout the track. You will need to maneuver a drone graciously through the air and use gravity to your full advantage.
- Advanced: These are arguably the most difficult courses to master because they combine the need to fly fast while also testing your reaction time with little warning. You will need to make split-second decisions that could end in catastrophe for your drone if you are not careful.
- Small Spaces: Finally, these courses will test how well you can fly through tight spaces. There is most often a hoop located in the middle of the course you will need to fly through perfectly to advance and not damage your device.
Most courses are outfitted with special lights and cool effects for a one-of-a-kind experience. Some of the leagues even encourage fans and competitors alike to submit locations that would make for exceptional courses. In many instances, the races are held in abandoned facilities that can be made to look like anything. The designers can get extremely creative when it comes to designing a course that is both fun and challenging.
How to Get Involved
Although the sport is still relatively new, it can be difficult to get involved on a professional level. This is especially the case for anyone who wants to be part of the Drone Racing League. The best way to get started in drone racing is to take a class and join a team in your area. You will need to acquire your own drone and goggles in order to partake in the events. By being part of a team, you will learn when events are taking place near your city. Your team may even drive out to another state to get involved and have fun.
As time goes on, you will be a part of more and more competitions. It is at this point you may catch the attention of a professional who wants to test your skills in a more experienced event. This is an excellent time to get involved in drone racing if you are not doing it already. Since it is still fairly new, there are still a number of ways for the sport to grow. You can get your foot in the door and start making connections to potentially be the next big thing in the drone racing world.
The sport is already earning praise from numerous outlets. For example, the Drone Racing League was named as one of the most innovative companies in 2017. Part of what is so incredible about what DRL has done is that it managed to get broadcasting rights from a major network. It is clear that stations, such as ESPN, are invested in turning drone racing into the next big spectator sport. DRL also won an award from Cynopsis Media for being one of the most innovative companies in the last year. It is certainly a startup to watch that will only gain more notoriety as time goes on.
The Future of the Sport
Being so new, drone racing can go almost anywhere in terms of popularity. Plenty of new sports pop up every year in an attempt to be the next big thing. However, while some will become instant successes, such as the Electronic Sports League, many others will fall apart sooner rather than later, which is what happened to the National Xball League.
There are some obstacles the sport needs to get over before it can enjoy any kind of mainstream success. For starters, the league needs to make it easier for spectators to follow along with their favorite competitors. One problem with drones is that they all tend to look the same from a distance. It is perhaps for this reason some races outfit the drones with small LED lights so that they can be distinguished from a distance.
It seems as though drone racing will not go away anytime soon. Some races have already handed out extremely high cash prizes. For instance, the World Drone Prix was held in Dubai recently where the winner took home $250,000. Leagues are also attracting blue-chip sponsors, such as GoPro.
A Rich Yet Short History
Truth be told, drone racing has been around since people could first acquire commercially-accessible drones. It is not hard to imagine two friends both getting drones and then wanting to see which one was faster. If this sounds like something that interests you, then starting is as simple as buying a drone. When just starting out, you do not necessarily have to invest in an expensive piece of equipment. You can simply get the hang of operating a drone around various obstacles until you feel comfortable risking something that costs more.
Rodeo 110 Racing Drone RTF, W/ HD Camera, Radio and Battery
WALKERA F210 Racing Quad
DJI Goggles Racing Edition
Carbon 210 Racing Drone Aluminum Case
Drones did not use to be the rugged quadcopters and sleek fixed-winged gliders you know them as today, and they certainly could not soar to great heights, capture amazing aerial views or send birds-eye-view footage from up to 500 meters away from home base. In fact, drones used to be clumsy pieces of technology that were anything but impressive, and it was not until The Predator MQ-1 that the U.S. military actually took a real interest in drone technology. Even so, however, the MQ-1 was a far cry from the missile drones used by the Germans or the balloon drones used by the Austrians. So, how did we go from unmanned aerial vehicles that were essentially hot-air balloons carrying bombs to the Hunter 4, Typhoon H, Parrot AR.Drone and another high tech, miniscule quadcopters? That is precisely the question this post is designed to answer.
Ewatt S8 Coaxial Multi-Rotor Aircraft
Ewatt D6 Long-Endurance Hexacopter Aircraft
Ewatt E2 Workhorse Fixed Wing Aircraft
Ewatt EWZ-E2 T Catapult
Civilian Drones Pave the Way for Commercial Drones
In order to understand how commercial drones got their start, it is important to first understand when drones stopped being used for military purposes and when (and how) they started being used for consumer enjoyment. While military drone models certainly paved the way for consumer drones—after all, the newest military UAV technology is durable, designed for aerial surveillance and are designed to fly either autonomously or by remote control—consumer drones have their roots in two completely separate technologies: smartphones and hobbyists’ radio-controlled aircraft.
Many hobbyists and employees of the drone industry began making their own unmanned flying vehicles on the side by using small RC aircraft powered by miniature petrol engines. As you can imagine, the result was anything but beautiful. Apparently, the early consumer drones were noisy, finicky and destined for failure at first flight. But then along came smartphone technology.
The technology found in smartphones, tablets and portable computers was precisely what hobbyists needed to electrically power small aircraft in a quiet, smooth and safe manner. This technology was far more reliable petrol motors, easier to install and, of course, less expensive to operate. In fact, with a charging cord and an outlet, expenses were virtually nil once the building was complete.
Once it was discovered that the lithium polymer batteries found in smart technology were what was necessary to create a durable and reliable unmanned vehicle, hobbyists took it one step further and turned to microcontroller chips which, thanks to the quick advancements in technology, were relatively cheap to obtain. This software allowed them to squeeze a small computer into a box as small as a cigarette packet and paved the way for open-source autopilot software for fixed-wing drones. These microcontrollers also provided for onboard brains for a new design of drone: the quadcopter.
Just little more than a decade after the MQ-1 was introduced in 1994, research groups had come up with the technology necessary to man an aerial vehicle that had four vertical-axis rotors that could control the position of the drone by adjusting the speeds of the rotors. Considering that there was nearly a 100-year span between Austria’s bomb-balloons and the U.S.’s MQ-1, the fact that hobbyists were able to develop a quadcopter—a model never before seen before—within a decade of The Predator’s release is amazing, and a feat that should not be overlooked. So, it should come as no surprise that within just three years of the first civilian quadcopter being introduced that Amazon CEO, Jeff Bezos, was already proposing drone use for delivery.
Resolving Key Drone Issues
Before that could happen, hobbyists needed to resolve two key issues. The first was the stabilization of quadcopters. Though the quadcopter was a cool concept, they were difficult to keep stable in the air, much more difficult than their single propeller counterparts. When up in the air, quadcopters had a hard time staying right side up, and getting them to move one direction or another was a nearly impossible feat. Almost serendipitously, the cost of accelerometers based on micro-electromechanically systems—a technology used as tilt sensors in smartphones—had been drastically reduced, much as what happened with the microcontrollers. Once the tilt sensors were installed, it was like a whole new technology had been born. Instead of quadcopters flipping onto their backs midflight, they were flying straight, able to sway from one side to the other with the push of a button, and performing feats that even the military never dreamed possible with all their hardy technology. It seemed as if civilian drones had finally made it.
Of course, smart technology played a huge role in the development and advancement of civilian drones. Without smartphones and apps, there would be no way to control the UAVs beyond typical RC equipment. Additionally, smart technology provided the tiny components necessary to really bring the modern-day drone to life, such as micro-camera sensors and speedy Wi-Fi chips. The app uprising gave hobbyists a way to sync their micro-computers with their phones and other gadgets, giving them an easy and affordable way to man their equipment.
Ultimately, it was the stability of the quadcopter that grabbed the attention of the commercial world. Once videos were released of drones carrying glasses of water and performing other amazing acrobatic feats (as evidence in this 2013 YouTube video from roboticist Raffaello D’ Andrea), it truly seemed as if the possibilities were endless. If the government trusted drones enough to do its dirty work, and if hobbyists had found a way to make UAVs friendly, why should drones not be used in the customer service field?
Military Powers (Without the Military Cost)
Once family-friendly companies such as Amazon began to realize that drones did not have to be scary or expensive, they began to look more seriously at drones as a means of fulfilling customer requests. There was another issue that needed to be resolved first, and that was the issue of durability. If these drones were going to be used to deliver packages, film football games or capture aerial foot for research purposes, they need to be durable. That’s where military drones come back into play.
Military drones were built to withstand some of the most demanding conditions that even man could not survive. They were also built to fly great distances without faltering and, best of all (at least from a commercial standpoint), to fly autonomously. Commercial drones needed to incorporate those three capabilities, but at a fraction of the cost of what the military spent building its UAVs. They also need to incorporate many of the capabilities demonstrated by consumer drones, such as the ability to follow runners, cyclists or skiers and to film them from above.
Advanced algorithms, improved onboard processing power and improvements in camera vision seem to be in the works to make commercial drones capable of “thinking” more independently and of operating with the precision of a well-oiled machine as opposed to a fallible human. The possibility of greater autonomy also introduces the possibility of drone swarms, which may sound scary but could actually reduce the stress on package carriers everywhere. Imagine, instead of the UPS man being forced to deliver late into the evenings during the holiday season or in extreme weather conditions, companies like UPS, FedEx and DHL Express can do more without sacrificing the safety or family time of their workers.
The Future of Commercial Drones
This post referenced package delivery quite a few times, but the truth is that drones have the potential be used for a number of exciting reasons by individuals, commercial organizations and governments everywhere. In fact, the FAA has already cleared several industries for airspace and has established Federal Aviation Regulations for commercial flyers, making the possibilities for drone use all the more real. Some commercial uses for drones already in place or being talked about include:
- Express shipping and delivery
- Aerial photography for film and journalism
- Building safety inspections
- Search and rescue operations via the use of thermal sensor drones
- The research and information gathering for natural disaster preparation
- Unmanned cargo transportation
- Video surveillance for law enforcement and border patrol
- Precision crop monitoring
- Storm tracking and forecasting of natural disasters such as tornados and hurricanes
- Geographic mapping of terrain and locations that are typically inaccessible by humans
As you can see, the future for commercial drones is an exciting one, and there is significant potential for drones to change the way the world lives and operates. Not only will companies such as Amazon and DHL Express be able to do more for their customers and reduce the workload for employees, but also, there is the very real potential to predict natural disasters in advance and potentially save thousands of lives.
Drones may have gotten their roots on the battleground, but it is clear that they are destined to do much more than direct missiles to a target. In fact, with the advancements made by hobbyists and commercial organizations, the new drone may be open that the military looks to for inspiration instead of the other way around. Only time will tell, though.
Matrice 100 Flying Platform
Matrice 100 + Zenmuse Z3 Optical Zoom Camera Bundle
Matrice 600 Pro Flying Platform
DJI Matrice 200 Quadcopter
A lot of fun can be had with an rtf racing drone that comes assembled right out of the box. But if you’ve honed your skills on a simulator and spent some time flying an fpv racing drone, you may be ready for the next step: building your own drone. Unless you’re already an engineer, drone racing kits are the perfect stepping stone between flying something pre-assembled and building a racing drone from scratch. They usually come with all the components you need and it’s up to you to put them together. In the process, you’ll learn what all the parts are and how they fit together.
Once you’ve assembled a drone from a kit it will seem easy to switch out specific components in order to upgrade your drone or customize its performance. Before you know it, you’ll have a custom, built-from-scratch drone in the race, which increases your chances of winning considerably. If you haven’t spent much time thinking about how your drone works beyond charging batteries and replacing propellers damaged in a crash, even a kit may seem overwhelming. However, once you familiarize yourself with the components listed below, it should seem more manageable.
What you get in your drone racing kit all depends on the kit. Some rtf kits come with everything listed below, from the frame to the goggles. Many kits are more basic and they only provide the components needed to build the quadcopter, leaving it to you to purchase your own receiver and radio transmitter, goggles, camera, video transmitter, battery and battery charger. If you’ve already got a headset and transmitter you love, a more basic kit may let you keep using them with a better racing drone. If you want to be sure everything will work together without a lot of research, go for an rtf kit.
The following components are all necessary to build a functional fpv racing drone, which is why a kit should include all of them. Also included are some suggestions for when you’re ready to upgrade a component to what the pros use.
The frame is what gives a drone its distinctive shape and provides the base that everything else will be attached to. In the quadcopters used by hobbyists or videographers, frames are sometimes made of plastic or other materials. A racing drone, however, benefits from being as light as possible because when there’s less weight to haul around an obstacle course it can fly faster. That’s why the good ones are made from lightweight carbon and they often have an open design. The compromise is between having a lightweight frame that’s still durable enough to survive a crash.
A good frame for beginners will be a little on the larger side, giving you plenty of room to get everything attached. The downside is this will be a little heavier than something smaller. For a professional grade racing frame, consider the iFlight RACER iX5. The high-quality carbon is durable and light and the frame itself is not overly expensive. It’s on the small side, so it’s better if you have some previous experience with assembly before you upgrade to this frame.
The motors power your propellers to make your drone fly. In a typical quadcopter, which is the most common type of racing drone (though definitely not the only type) there’s one motor to power each propeller. For one of the fastest, most powerful motors, go with the EMAX RS 2205S.
Propellers are the spinning blades that create lift and velocity so your quadcopter can fly. They come with 2, 3 or 4 blades as well as in different sizes. Five inches is probably the most popular size class among racers. What type of propeller you get also depends on your motors. Slower motors can go up to 4 blades while faster ones use propellers with a maximum of 3 blades. DALProp Cyclone is popular pro propellers.
The Power Distribution Board
The Power Distribution Board (PDB) sends power from the battery to the places it needs to go, namely the electronic speed controllers, the receiver, the flight controller, the camera and the video transmitter. You can think of it as your drone’s spinal cord, sending electrical impulses to all its working parts. Some high-end boards, like the Realacc/Matek HUBOSD will even come with On Screen Display, so that you can monitor how much battery power you have left, how much voltage you’re using and other helpful information right in your goggles.
Electronic Speed Controllers
When you use your radio transmitter to tell your drone to speed up or slow down, the electronic speed controllers turn translate that signal into the correct voltage and sends it to your motors. You can either get four separate electronic speed controllers or what’s called a 4in1, which bundles all four into a single component. The advantage to having four separate electronic speed controllers is that if one is damaged in a crash or some other incident you only need to replace one instead of all four.
If you have the money to spend on top-of-the-line components, the DYS XSD 20A electronic speed controllers are some of the best you can get. They can send more power to your motors, and that translates into faster speeds on race day.
The flight controller is your drone’s central processor. Radio signals picked up by the receiver and information from the gyroscope all get processed here so that commands can be forwarded to the relevant components. A more expensive flight controller is going to give you greater processing power, making it a little smarter and more responsive than cheaper options. When you’re ready to upgrade, the Revolt F4 is a great option.
The receiver receives signals from your transmitter, so it’s how you communicate with your drone. Because the receiver and transmitter work together, they must be compatible. In fact, at the more affordable end of the scale the transmitter and receiver are sold together. Any drone racing kit you get will obviously provide you with compatible components, so there’s no need to worry about it. However, if the time comes when you feel like you want to upgrade, the important thing is to double check compatibility.
For the most part this means using a radio transmitter and receiver from the same company, as each has their own protocol. FrSky transmitters and receivers are extremely popular among racers, and for a professional grade receiver, take a look at the FrSky X4RSB.
If there’s one component you don’t want to skimp on, it’s the radio transmitter. This is how you communicate with your drone and control it. If you can afford to splurge on one thing, let it be your transmitter. Investing in a FrSky Taranis x9D up-front can carry you all the way from beginner to pro-level drone racing. It works with all the most popular flight simulators and is also beloved by serious racers.
Batteries provide the power that makes your drone work. Bigger drone batteries provide more power but they also weigh more, which means they require more power to operate. Finding the right balance between weight and power is critical for racing drones, which require minimal weight and maximum power. Most racing drones use a 4S battery with a capacity between 1300 and 1500 mAh, which deliver decent power but are still relatively light. The Dinogy Graphene 2.0 is a top-of-the-line choice.
You also need a battery charger so you can recharge your battery once it runs out. In a kit your charger will always be compatible with your batter, but if you have to replace, double check compatibility before you buy.
Having a good camera can mean the difference between cruising around a course with no problem and smashing your quadcopter to pieces because you couldn’t see clearly when you flew from a darker place to a lighter place. It also makes for a way more intense flight experience when what you see is crisp and clear. If your kit comes with a subpar camera, consider making this one of your first upgrades. The 600TVL Sony is an excellent choice.
Lumenier 1300mAh 3s 35c Lipo Battery (XT60)
EV-Peak A1 100W 10Amp Touch Screen NiMH / LiPO Battery Balance Charger
WALKERA F210 Racing Quad
DJI Goggles Racing Edition
The video transmitter is what sends the image captured by your camera to the video receiver in your headset. Most let you change channel, frequency and signal power. The Eachine TX526 gives you great options at a still affordable price.
When it comes to headsets, there’s a huge range in quality and cost. At the low end, you can pay as little as $60, but that gives you a pixelated image that’s probably going to interfere with your ability to navigate a course and greatly diminish the pleasures of fpv flying. At the other end of the spectrum, you can spend hundreds of dollars for FPV goggles that give you a fully immersive experience with amazing resolution, a DVR recorder and it will be comfortable to wear. Fatshark Dominator V3 goggles are some of the best money can buy, but they aren’t cheap.
What Else You Need
Once you’ve picked out a kit, remember you’ll need tools to do the actual assembly. Some of these are basic tools you probably already have in your home tool kit, but there are some you’ll probably have to purchase. Even the best pilots crash sometimes, so having a good collection of tools will allow you to make your own repairs and rebuild your quadcopter, which makes them a worthwhile investment. Here’s a list of what you should have on hand when you build your quad.
- Soldering iron
- Hex drivers
- Wire cutters
- Hot glue gun
With these basic tools, you’ll have everything you need to turn the parts in your drone racing kit into a fully functional racing drone. As you become more comfortable working on drones, you might also consider getting a multimeter to test electrical currents and a power drill so you can make serious modifications when necessary. Drone racing kits are definitely the gateway to building drones from scratch. Once you have assembled your first drone kit, you’re on your way to having the skills and knowledge to create a one-of-a-kind, custom-built racing drone that performs exactly how you want it to.