The Many Uses of Drones

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The Many Uses of Drones: TVS Diodes Manufacturer Discusses the Future of Drone Technology

 

After the year that was 2020, drones (unmanned aerial vehicles) have never looked so lovely. Regions all over the world went into various stages of lockdown to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, and entire industries were brought to their knees. In some quarters, the spotlight settled on drones as decision makers sought alternative ways to remain operational with a limited number of employees. Are drones living up to those expectations? And what does the future hold for technology? Let’s find out.

As manufacturers of critical electronic components used in military applications, MDE Semiconductor, Inc. knows firsthand what it means to be put to the test. Our TVS diodes are small circuit devices trusted to kick in when natural events like lightning strikes, unpredictable occurrences like electrostatic discharges, or upstream electrical switching lead to voltage surges. TVS diodes protect circuits from destruction when these energetic events occur.

 

Drone Usage in The Era of Covid-19

As of January 2021, the FAA had registered over 1.7 million drones in the U.S [1]. About 71% of those registrations were for recreational purposes, while 27% were for commercial use.

It would be easy to reiterate the different industries in which drones can play a role. However, it’s more interesting to investigate the successes of said applications when the stakes are high. While companies tend not to divulge exact revenue or operational figures, below are some case studies that have been reported in the news:

Delivery by Drone

The FAA sped up its approval process for services that could help ease the difficulties caused by the pandemic. Because delivery of goods by drone could reduce unnecessary contact, it was a beneficial use case.

Flytrex, a drone startup, offered deliveries to Walmart online shoppers based in Grand Forks, North Dakota. Shoppers had to make their purchases from a selection of over 200 items through the drone company’s app. Bought goods were loaded onto the drone at the store and when it arrived at the customer’s backyard, was lowered by cable from an 80 ft height. Per reports, the company’s drones could carry packages weighing up to 7 pounds to destinations up to 3.5 miles.

The drone subsidiary of Google’s Alphabet, Wing, partnered with Walgreens in Virginia and started home deliveries in 2019. When the pandemic hit, the company also saw delivery orders increase and expanded to include school and library books.

Small niche shops did well to join the trend. A local Indiana sandwich shop kept its lights on by using drones to make sandwich deliveries within a 3-mile radius [2].

Far away at sea, and on a much larger scale, Maersk, the shipping and logistics behemoth tested drone deliveries to transfer supplies from docks to ships to replace smaller ships used to ferry supplies.

Essential Medical Supplies

CVS and UPS teamed up with the drone company Matternet to deliver prescription medicines as needed to America’s largest retirement community. With 135 000 at risk residents, ensuring reduced contact was a must. Medicine from a CVS store was loaded up and delivered by drone to a pickup location from where UPS personnel retrieved the items to deliver to residents’ homes. The pilot project started with one store and a 1-mile radius, but is gradually expanding to include more CVS stores.

Zipline, the drone delivery startup has been operational since 2016 distributing medical supplies to remote regions in Rwanda and later Ghana. The experiences along the way helped the company develop its delivery model and gain international recognition in doing so.

Joining the fight against the pandemic, it partnered with Novant Health and received a waiver from the FAA to operate long-distance flights. A 32 mile trip on two routes between a drone fulfilment center in Kannapolis and the medical center in Huntersville with PPE in tow.

Drones for monitoring

Several reports about successful use of drones at various scales to inspect inventory, building assets, and equipment in expansive areas are available. Farms, construction sites, wind and solar energy farms, buildings, and manufacturing facilities are just a few examples.

A series of pictures or a video clip of places of interest might be all that is needed to detect faults or processes in need of improvement. In other instances, a combination of whatever vision technology and artificial intelligence is required to eliminate the need to spend hours combing through video footage or picture images to gain the necessary insights.

In different news, a Connecticut police department employed drone technology with the objective of observing whether or not people were following social distancing guidelines in public spaces [3]. According to the drone’s manufacturer, it could also be used to detect Coronavirus symptoms like high temperatures. However, the program to monitor residents in this way was promptly abandoned due to the outrage over personal and data privacy.

 

The Future of Drone Technology: Opportunities and Challenges

According to a business insider article [4], the journey to today’s generation of drones has been marked by many impressive technological milestones. What started out as a basic remotely controlled aircraft has seen transformations such as:

  • Manual piloting graduating to autopilot capabilities and increased autonomy in navigation and data processing,
  • Static designs shifting to two-axis gimbals, then three-axis gimbals, and later 360° gimbals,
  • Basic instrumentation progressing to higher value additions with intelligent computing and airspace awareness capabilities,
  • More technologically advanced payloads such as higher definition picture cameras and video recording, with payload interchangeability
  • Designs conforming to regulatory standards with automated safety enhancements.

Any one improvement to a drone’s frame, external and internal sensors, power supply, or software stack (a combination of firmware, middleware, and operating system to manage navigation and control flights) can count as yet another innovative addition.

TVS diodes are critical components in miniaturized circuits to protect against damage from voltage transients.

Challenges

Drones have limited flight times due to battery constraints. To this end, manufacturers continue to propose alternative power sources, higher capacity batteries, or energy storage options.

To limit accidental collisions with people and objects, the FAA stipulated that only qualified pilots are allowed to fly them, and that pilots avoid non-designated zones and fly below certain heights, among other regulations. To operate autonomously, drones would need the ability to recognize and react intelligently to their environments. GPS, sensors, and AI systems are key technologies towards achieving 360-degree awareness and obstacle avoidance.

Like the Connecticut police experienced, public perception and acceptance is crucial for the success of any drone programs. Although they are shifting thanks to the current climate, it is too soon to tell whether positive attitudes will stay so.

Worth mentioning is that for certain drone operations, the FAA awarded temporary waivers and not blanket licenses. The reasoning was that many of the associated risks, air traffic and public mass gatherings, were reduced with people staying at home. Below are a few FAA policies of note:

Drone Airworthiness

In November 2020, the FAA provided airworthiness criteria for certification to 10 drone companies namely, 3D Robotics, Airobotics, Amazon, Flirtey, Flytrex, Matternet, Percepto, Telegrid, Wingcopter, and Zipline [5]. When these companies can prove their machines meet the criteria, they will be certified.

Factors considered towards certification include design, construction, control, operating limitations, GPS connectivity, software, propulsion systems, command-and-control link, critical flight control components, cyber security, and whether information such as in flight manuals provide necessary steps towards continued airworthiness.

Remote ID

The FAA requires drone makers to install the ability to broadcast identification codes and location data while the devices operate in national airspace [6]. Without Remote ID, drones would be relegated to flying only in FAA designated areas, typically the mainstay of hobbyists flying model airplanes. The FAA chose 8 companies to help table out the requirements for the Remote ID system including OneSky, Skyward, Airbus, AirMap, Amazon, Intel, T-Mobile and Wing.

Beyond Visible Line of Sight, BVLOS

Companies are also interested in approval for BVLOS operations which would allow them to maximize their drone technologies. In August 2020, the FAA waived the BVLOS rule for public safety organizations flying drones with strict guidelines and spatial regulations to guide them. For example, a drone should not be flown more than 1,500 ft. from the pilot.

In December 2020, the FAA also approved BVLOS operability in the North Dakota Northern Plains UAS Test Site. The site will support development and testing for more complex flying techniques and applications. Existing tenants at the Grand Sky technology park include General Atomic and Northrop Grumman and private companies are eager to get in on the action to test their hardware and software to make BVLOS a reality.

 

MDE Semiconductor, Inc. Manufactures TVS Diodes for Military Applications

MDE Semiconductor, Inc. offers a wide range of TVS Diodes to ensure a drone’s electronics operate with maximum reliability. These are Circuit Protection Devices to suppress overvoltage / overcurrent surges.

We offer an extensive line of TVS Diodes suitable for the high-performance needs of military applications. We are a full-line supplier and manufacture high volumes to satisfy large-scale production needs. We also work closely with customers in need of customized protection devices.

Visit our website for more at www.mdesemiconductor.com

 

Sources

[1] https://www.phillybyair.com/blog/drone-stats/

[2] https://www.wishtv.com/news/local-news/sandwiches-via-drone-food-delivery-adapts-to-social-distancing/

[3] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/connecticut-town-reverses-course-pandemic-drones-amid-privacy-concerns-n1191051

[4] [https://www.businessinsider.com/drone-technology-uses-applications?IR=T

[5] https://www.aviationtoday.com/2020/11/24/10-drone-companies-receive-airworthiness-criteria-faa/

[6] https://www.faa.gov/uas/getting_started/remote_id/