How Do Drones Work

How do drones work
Photo Credit: pxfuel.com

So, you enjoy watching your drone fly up and away in the sky. This gives you the opportunity to see things that you ordinarily won’t see and that is if your quadcopter has a camera. But have you ever wondered, “how do drones work?”

Drones are fast becoming very popular. People own them for various reasons and one of the funniest is to annoy dogs. Dogs mistake drones for frisbees. Because of how popular they have become, anyone can now acquire a drone.

If you are a Do It Yourself (DIY) person, you should probably have learned how to make a drone from scratch. When you build your own drone, you won’t have to spend a lot of cash and it can be customized to suit your needs.

Well, by building your own drone, we are referring to quadcopters. These are drones that have four (4) rotors. They are the most common type of drone used by hobbyists.

Video: How Do Drones Work

If you prefer learning by video, this article is also explained here.

When operating your drone, it feels like you are handling a game console. But there is more to just controlling the movement of your drone. There is a technology that makes the drone move. It may seem complex, but we will try to simplify the mechanics involved.

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The Mechanics Involved in Flying A Drone

Video: How Does A Drone Fly?

This video explains the mechanism involved in flying a drone.

Upward and Downward Thrust

Before your drone flies, it needs to be propelled off the ground. This is the essence of the rotors attached to the drone. If you are flying a quadcopter, it will have four (4) rotors. These rotors influence the upward or vertical movement of the drone.

The rotors look like blades that can be found in fans. When the blades are spun, air is being pushed down. Hence, as they are propelled and air is being pushed down, that air lifts the drone off the ground.

When the rotors are further spun and more air is generated, the drone will have the ability to fly higher. As soon as the speed of the rotors are reduced, the drone will start descending. Basically, that is the idea behind the upward and downward thrust of the drone.

In flying a drone, there are three (3) forms of vertical movement. These include:

Hover

In hovering, the gravitational pull that is working against the drone is equal to the drone’s down thrust. These are supposed to be two opposing forces but when they become balanced, the drone can hover over a height.

Climb

When your drone starts moving upward, it is said to be climbing. For your drone to climb, you need to increase the speed of the rotor until it generates an upward thrust. This up thrust must be greater than the force that is trying to bring down the drone. Which is otherwise known as the force of gravity.

Descend

In descending, all you have to do, is the opposite of climb. As soon as you reduce the speed of the rotors, the drone will start descending.

Rotation

How do you get your drone to fly towards a different direction when it is already in the air? There is more to controlling your drone with a remote.

When your drone is hovering, two (2) of the rotors will be moving clockwise while the other two (2) will move anticlockwise.

For instance, the quadcopter has four (4) rotors. If we count them in a clockwise direction, it means rotors one (1) and three (3) will move clockwise. On the other hand, rotors two (2) and four (4) will move anticlockwise.

As a result of this opposite motion, angular or rotational momentum will be equal to zero (0). Let’s see how we got that.

To make this simple, we will assign values to each form of rotation. The rotors that are moving anticlockwise will have positive values of +1 each. The other clockwise rotors will have negative values of -1 each. Therefore, we have all values as +1, +1, -1, and -1. When we sum up all values, we are left with zero (0).

Assuming you need this drone to move towards right wing, we will reduce the rotational momentum of rotor one (1) from -1 to 0.

All things being equal, the drone’s rotational momentum will then become +1. But because this is not possible, the drone needs to rotate clockwise to have a rotational momentum value of -1.

From the description above, we realize that reducing the speed of rotor one (1) resulted in the rotation of the drone. However, this also reduced the upward thrust of the drone thereby causing it to descend. As a result of this imbalance in rotor one (1), the drone will tilt downwards in that direction.

So, how can your drone rotate without creating an imbalance among the rotors?

All you need to do is to reduce the speed of rotors one (1) and three (3) while increasing that of rotors two (2) and four (4). When this is done, as long as the angular or rotational momentum does not sum up to 0 (zero), the drone will rotate.

Now, we have established a fact that your drone will move successfully by changing the speed of one or two of its rotors. This motion is further made easier by attaching an accelerometer to your drone.

Accelerometer and Altimeter

The accelerometer and altimeter determine how fast or slow and how high or low your drone will fly. The direction and speed at which your drone will move is dependent on the accelerometer.

It is the work of the altimeter to dictate how high the drone can fly. There are certain heights that your quadcopter can not attain due to the intensity of wind. You also do not want your drone to fly too low because of the obstructions at the ground level.

Furthermore, newer drones are fitted with more sensors that can prevent them from colliding with objects. These sensors include:

  1. Ultrasonic
  2. Monocular vision
  3. Lidar
  4. Infrared
  5. Time of flight
  6. Vision sensors

With these improved sensors, when an obstacle is observed, the drone will change direction to avoid collision.

Camera

drone camera
Photo Credit: pxfuel.com

Drones are called unmanned aerial vehicles because they do not need a pilot to fly. As long as you have a camera in your drone, you can see where your drone is flying. You also do not need to see the drone physically as it can fly out of sight.

This technology is being applied in rescue missions or when the military needs to target a terrorist camp.

Furthermore, not all drones come with cameras. But if you want to build your own drone, you can fix a HD camera to get clear and quality footage. The HD camera will collaborate with the network of the drone in order to transmit real time videos of the aerial view.

As a result, drones are now being used in chromatography and aerial photography. Its utility is of high relevance and who knows what the future holds for drones?

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Wireless Connection

Your drone can be controlled using a remote or a controller in form of a joystick. It can also be controlled from a smart phone using an application. Such applications come with GPS coordinates that have been programmed to enable flight.

In addition, the controller enables you to see if the batteries of your drone are fully charged. This unique feature ensures that your drone does not run out of juice while in motion. This is an essential feature because your quadcopter will need small batteries to avoid overloading the drone.

Communication Extender

Your drone has a specific distance it can cover when flying. As soon as it goes beyond that distance, you may be unable to see or control your drone. In this regard, what you need is a communication extender.

A communication extender works by using a frequency of 2.4 giga hertz. This frequency helps to improve your communication with the drone, despite the distance.

You can extend communication over a distance of about seven hundred (700) meters or above two thousand (2,000) feet. But this is dependent on your drone and the kind of extender at your disposal.

If you can no longer communicate with your drone, there is a safe mode. New drone models come with this feature. It enables your drone to safely come back to its starting point unlike in older models where the drone will crash. That is if the user has lost control over the drone’s movement or can no longer communicate with it.

What Does the Future Hold for Drones?

Drones are fast becoming popular and the future holds a lot for these Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Due to its application in various fields, more people are embracing the technology and utilizing it for the greater good of man.

As a result, drone manufacturers are now looking at producing drones with improved features. In the future, we believe that drones will be able to accommodate batteries with longer life. Because this is currently the major drawback of drones. An improvement in this regard will increase flight time.

As the needs of man are insatiable, more types of drones will continue to emerge to meet those needs. Just as we now have drones that can be used to take selfies or go under water, innovations will continue to arise.

Finally, drone technology is getting better by the day and we do not expect less in the coming future. You do not need prior experience in operating a drone. All you need is a burning desire to understand the mechanics behind flying a drone and you are all set to go.