Getting Started with Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs)
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also known as Drones is among the hottest topics in robotics. These flying robots can have different shapes, but they often often look like RC planes or helicopters with one or more rotors (typically four with quad-rotors or quadcopters). The difference with RC aircrafts is that UAVs exhibit at least some level of autonomy regarding their flight operations. So, a UAV typically embeds an auto-pilot. A mission planner software allows you to define waypoints or targets to follow. Videos 1 and 2 show the auto-pilot in action and how the drone autonomously comes back and lands after a disconnection or a battery shortage.
Video 1: Quadcopter Hovering and Maintaining a Position
Video 2: Quadcopter Autonomously Coming Back After Disconnect
UAVs did attract attention well beyond the robotics community. They are even in stories reported by media targetting the general public. While this coverage was first in the context of warfare, the current trend is to use UAVs for civilian applications in various domain covering agriculture, real-estate, film making, structure inspection, fire fighting, search and rescue, as well as parcel delivery as announced by Amazon (see Video 3).
Video 3: Amazon Prime Air Under-development Delivery System
Unfortunately, commercial uses of UAVs are currently forbidden by the FAA. An important debate is going on with petitions aiming to change the rules and open the civilian market to drones. Still, you can fly a drone as long as you don’t get money for it and you adhere to the FAA recommendations and safety rules.
To learn more about drones, we highly recommend the UAV digest podcast. It brings you every week with news about what’s going on in the UAV world. If you want to purchase a ready to fly drone you can find small drones for a few dozens of bucks. But, they are rather limited and they can only fly indoors. For a richer experience we suggest the popular AR Drone 2 for less than $300. It can be controlled using a smartphone or a tablet through Wifi. The embedded HD camera allows making snapshots and recording videos or streaming them live as shown in the Video 4 below.
Video 4: Selection of Videos by AR Drone Users