• Lily Rawlings

“The future is not distant …. It is within our grasp”: A study in UAVs and their potential

Updated: Dec 23, 2021

UAVs are often seen as futuristic despite the technology having existed since the beginning of the 20th century when the first UAV, the Ruston Proctor Aerial Target, was created. Although they were originally created for military purposes in the last decade, they have increasingly been used commercially which has made them of interest to us at Sibylline Curiosities.

The question is what are UAVs? Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are aircrafts that are remotely controlled, meaning the pilot is not within the vehicle. Their automation provides many benefits but most of the valuable data they collect is from the additional technology that is added to them, such as dual thermal cameras and GPS systems. The UAVs payload, the additional weight it can carry excluding its own weight, determines the amount of technology that can be added. The payload is therefore one of the two key factors when choosing which UAV to deploy, the other being its flight time. The trade-off that exists between the two factors, as higher payloads reduce the length of flight time, causes different UAVs to have unique capabilities. The task undertaken by the UAV will determine which model you select based on the capabilities that are required.

Why am I so interested in UAVs? Last year I saw UAVs more widespread application when I worked for Six Degree’s and contributed to a report on ‘Utilising UAV technology in Response to the Desert Locust Crisis’. We researched a control solution of fixed wing and multi-rotor UAVs for monitoring and spraying locusts to replace current ground control and aerial methods.

The two types of UAVs differ as Fixed-Wing UAVs use wings to keep them in the air whereas multi-rotor UAVs use vertical lift rotors which require energy during flight. Our research and work with the Alliance to Feed the Earth in Disasters (ALLFED) found that multirotor UAVs were a cost effective and time efficient control strategy at ½ the price of current spraying methods.

Although fixed wing UAVs are currently too expensive to replace aerial monitoring our research highlighted the benefits of their application elsewhere.

In Tanzania and Uganda fixed-wing UAVs, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, have been used to map water sources generating a 99.5% cost saving compared to conventional mapping methods.

UAVs benefits are not just monetary as they also improve precision and time efficiency seen in South Africa by UAVs thermal imaging being used to locate fires and people to improve rescue and fire management responses.

UAVs data collection can also increase farm productivity through their data on soil, ground, and moisture conditions; by assessing crop health and providing information on pest species.

You have seen some of UAV’s applications but now I want us to look specifically at UAVs commercial use. Continuing the theme of how UAVs can be used to combat crisis I have chosen to look at Perceptual Robotics a company that’s fighting the climate crisis by using UAV technology to facilitate green energy.

Perceptual Robotics provide data acquisition and decision making insight for wind assets using UAVs, robotics AI and cloud technology. Their blade inspections use Dhallion UAV to replace the current dangerous method of rope access specialists abseiling down turbines.

The stats speak for themselves about the benefits of UAVs and Perceptual Robotics: inspection time reduced to just 30 minutes, 2/3 cheaper than existing methods of detection and total cost of wind turbine blade maintenance reduced by up to 30%. The company has secured several investments due to these amazing results which can be contributed partly to their use of UAVs. In their latest funding round in September, Perceptual Robotics secured an investment of £1.6m. This is one company to watch as its success seems set to continue.

We have now seen some of the benefits and applications of UAVs, both of which will increase as the technology continues developing and lowering in price. Although some companies have started utilising this technology, many more would if they knew the benefits as reportedly only 1 in 10 companies know how to use them for their business advantage. You can help change this statistic. How can you use UAVs to benefit your company?

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