Although large scale quadcopters have never been used for regular transport, recent developments in the field of small autonomous drones use them to great effect. There are many misconceptions surrounding multirotors, but their most attractive features for many people is their low cost and ability to lift decent payloads. Quadrotors of small size can lift up to one pound while larger craft can lift up to 10 pounds or more. This makes it ideal to attach a camera too for surveillance or even just aerial photography.
What Makes The Quadcopter So Great?
A RC quadcopter (RC stands for remote controlled) is less stable and less efficient when compared to an equivalent regular helicopter. However, the disadvantage of lower efficiency and stability is compensated by the advantage of mechanical simplicity, which makes them a popular choice for small drones.
The cyclic-pitch mechanism in a helicopter is highly complex and thus expensive. This mechanism allows the helicopter to maneuver by adjusting the pitch of two main rotor blades while spinning, and combining it with tail rotor.
However, a quadcopter employs four motors that are joined to four fixed-pitch props. This mechanism is like a propeller attached directly to motor. Therefore, it acts like a single moving part for each of the four fixed-pitch props. This mechanism is extremely simple and thus low cost. When combined with the power semi-conductors and high power density electric motors, this mechanism offers great control. However, this model is suitable only for small-sized models and fails when things are scaled-up.
Another small advantage of a quadcopter is that it has smaller blades, which makes it’s slightly safer to operate as it reduces the chances of lethal injury if it hits someone or if it falls-off in mid-air. This makes them convenient and safe to deploy at various public places.
Uses Of Quadcopters
Quadcopters have been used as unmanned aerial vehicles for reconnaissance and surveillance by several law enforcement agencies and military. Not only that, but their ability to carry decent payloads make them ideal choice for recreational fliers, as users can attach cameras for first person views or aerial photography. This allows the users to fly these multirotors as if they are sitting inside the craft like a pilot.
With that said, here is a few ideas on what you can use one of these drones for:
- Research platform
Quadcopters are a growing point of interest for students involved in research work. These lightweight flying devices are suitable for examining areas that would otherwise be hard to reach for a human. Many quadrotors used by researchers are fitted with tools like a GPS and an automatically leveling camera. These multirotors give the kind of hands on application and real world experience that students need. Because of their high maneuverability and capability of autonomous flight, they are suitable for use in many dangerous locations. For example, the DJI Phantom we reviewed as part of our Top 5 Best Quadcopters has been used to record volcanoes erupting, and you can watch that in this video:
Additionally, this device works as a great tool for university researchers and students to evaluate and test new ideas in many different fields like:
- Real time systems
- Flight control theory
Quadrotor projects are typically collaborations between mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science specialists. This collaboration of academics from different fields generates cross fertilization of ideas and approaches in these projects. All the participants in these projects need to work together to ensure any significant improvement in the way these devices perform.
Additionally, these multirotors are available in variety of sizes, have simple mechanism and are relatively cheap. Therefore, they are best suited as versatile test platforms, which can be easily built and maintained by amateurs.
- Commercial use
The most common commercial use of quadrotors is in the field of aerial imagery. Previously, full-sized helicopters were used for stationary aerial imagery. However, in recent times quadrotor drones have successfully replaced helicopters due to their huge cost savings and autonomous nature. The process of capturing aerial imagery with a quadrotor is highly simple. Therefore, it is used in various commercial environments ranging from industrial systems inspection to real estate photography.
News networks are using this amazing new technology to get real-time video feed and imagery while they are tackling emergency situations. Quadrotors allow them to look down on the scene and get full picture of the incident and the surrounding environment.
Recently, the Parcelcopter project of the Deutsche Post got international media attention as the company successfully tested its drone-delivery system for shipping medical products. This was the first instance of delivering packages via drones to civilians.
- Recreational use
Flying a quadrotor is somewhere in between flying a helicopter and an airplane. However, the controls are easy to understand and master. Additionally, there are tons of models that are available today, which start from the low cost version that offers you the feature of a radio transmitter, to a high cost device that offers features like advanced stabilization, altitude hold and GPS control.
Higher end quadrotors have the capability to lift full size video cameras and offer features like remote viewing and remote control of the mounted camera. Therefore, there are many people who use a RC quadcopter with a hobby perspective and record videos from the point of view of the aircraft. Later they play back these videos or upload it to popular video websites like YouTube.
There are many quadrotors that can lift a first person view system. This is encouraging people to use this craft for creating many exciting videos. There are certain models of quadrotors that are specially designed to perform aerobatic tricks like flips, loops and barrel rolls. Therefore, people get the option to choose a craft that they can use in different ways. However, the fixed-pitch blades of a quadcopter makes it impossible to fly them in an inverted position.
Promising Future Applications Of Quadrotors
New quadrotors are coming with many advanced applications that will result in several improvements in their capabilities. One such advancement is development of quadrotors that can track and follow moving ground targets. This capability will allow the quadcopter to be used at many places, which includes filming of sporting events.
Quadcopters have come a long way from their initial models. Latest improvements in microcontrollers, motors and small-scale sensors has immensely helped in the advancement of this device, as older designs are implemented at smaller scale. Although, new research is exploring the possibilities of quadrotor applications, they are already in use by many private, government and commercial users, with applications ranging from surveillance to recreational activities.
The future advancements in multirotor communication, maneuverability and environment exploration will allow the creation for highly advanced quadcopters. This will enable the use of these devices for many autonomous missions, which are presently not possible with any other device.