“We want to reach to people before they reach us. We want to save time, to shorten distances, to increase effectiveness and to make services easier.”
These were the words of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at the Government Summit, February, 2014, as he launched the United arab Emirates (UAE) ‘Drones for Good’ award.
Drones are Unmanned Ariel Vehicles (UAV), i.e. aircrafts that are remotely piloted. These range from simple, hand-operated variants to high altitude, armed, and long- endurance systems. While drones were initially used by armed forces for reconnaissance and surveillance, they are finding wider applications in industry and business.
Recent applications for commercial drones are social needs, and public service improvements. Some of the future application areas are, disaster relief, humanitarian aid, economic development, public health, education, civil defence, logistics, environment control, infrastructure development, and tourism. Many of these are in their early stages of development.
Today, a variety of drones are available off-the-shelf at a price ranging from AED 100 to aED 2,000. These are finding their way into the hands of young children, unleashing a level of creativity that is beyond what today’s classrooms are harnessing. Training the next generation and giving adequate skills on how to use the technology is important to the young minds that will shape our tomorrow.
Depending on the capabilities and limitations of drones there are wide range of applications yet to be unveiled. In this article, we present some basic information for ICT teachers to easily introduce the drones in their classrooms. For practical purposes, we also provide steps to program some basic functions of the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 using the Java programming language. This article is to help increase awareness and interest in the use of drones and thereby allow ICT teachers and students to work together and create innovative applications.
The UAV has been around for more than a century, with remote-controlled hot-air balloons and unmanned aircrafts. The contemporary version of drones originated from the toy industry. Though they were initially viewed as unreliable toys, they were used for military purposes about thirty years ago and this sparked the growth in the widespread interest in drones. Since then, the drones have become more efficient and reliable. The drone can be classified as a special type of robot. Robots are typically classified based on their application (Industrial, Military, or Domestic), and sometimes based on Mobility (stationary, wheeled, legged, amphibian, swarm, or flying). In this article we are discussing the commercially available drones like the parrot AR.Drone 2.0.
Capabilities and limitations
The design of drones is typically based on miniature aircrafts and helicopters. The uniquely designed quadcopters (multirotor drones) are becoming more popular for civilian and commercial use. We list a few of their common features and capabilities:
Portability: The commercially available variants of drones are easy to carry. For instance, the Parrot AR.Drone weighs between 350gm to 450gm.
Remote Connectivity: The drones can be remotely controlled using communication technology like Radio Frequency (RF), Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, or 2/3/4g phones. The quadcopter, Parrot AR.Drone 2.0, is a very good example of a Wi-Fi controlled drone.
Flight Distance: Most drones reach a flying altitude of 10 meters and more. The Parrot AR.Drone reaches a height of 50 meters.
Remote Sensing: The drones are usually fitted with different types of sensors like audio/visual sensors, electromagnetic sensors, or bio/ chemical sensors. One of the key features of the Parrot AR.Drone is a built-in 720p HD camera for live streaming of photos and videos to a connected smartphone or tablet.
Flight Endurance: The drones are battery-powered and most of them retain power for at-least 10 – 15 min. A few models are solar-powered and can be flown for a few hours.
Payload: Depending on the design and the material used to build the drone, they are capable of carrying loads of varying size and weight.
Manual or Automatic Controls: The drones are always remotely controlled, but some drones come with the autopilot capabilities based on GPS coordinates that can be configured before flight.
For civilian or commercial use, cost effectiveness maybe the most attractive feature of the drones. Yet, with all the features listed above, there are also some related limitations that need to be considered.
- The sizes of the drones limit the distance, flight time, and payload that can be added to the drones. The smaller the size, the more the maneuverability, but then this limits its payload.
- Depending on the type of connectivity the flying distance is limited for manual control. RF controlled drones are the most common type and are available as toys or hobbyist models that can be controlled to more than a km with very limited payload. On the other hand, Wi-Fi controlled drones are becoming more popular because they can be connected using computers, smartphones, or tablets, with built-in Wi-Fi. However, flight range usually is limited to 100- 500 meters.
- Power source limits flying time. Battery-powered drones are the most common type. flight time is about 15 – 30 min before the battery needs to be recharged or replaced. Higher capacity battery can be used, but heavier battery affects distance, payload and maneuverability.
- Drones as flying toys do not post any privacy issues. However with the remote sensing add-ons like audio/ video capabilities, and GPS tracking introduces some privacy concerns. In UAE, it is illegal to photograph or video-record people or locations without prior permission.
Fly the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0
The AR.Drone 2.0 can be bought off the shelf or ordered online. It has a 720p HD camera built in that shoots video on the fly, and the video streams straight to a handheld device where it’s saved. The parrot is a quadcopter, which has a maximum range of 50 meters and it is maneuverable from any smartphone, with an autopilot feature that makes taking off and landing quiet easy. The AR.Drone can be controlled using any android or iOS smartphone that has built-in Wi-Fi connectivity. The AR.Freeflight app has to be downloaded to the smartphone from the respective app- store to fly the AR.Drone. Flying the drone is an interesting and enjoyable experience but programming it, is a whole new experience that we would like to share with our readers.
This article introduced the Drone as a flying robot and discussed basic features and some application areas. The many uses of the technology are yet to be unveiled and we hope the article would kindle the interests of teachers and students to work together and create interesting applications with the drones.
Our future articles would provide step-by-step guidelines on how to program the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0. This will help initiate ICT teachers and students to have a hands-on approach with programming the drones.
By Dr Sujith Samuel Mathew and Mr Tony Ng