Quadcopters, or quadrocopters as they used to be known, are flying craft that are lifted and controlled by four propellers. Quadcopters are a relatively new technology, first developed in the early 2000s. However, they have quickly become one of the most popular types of drones due to their versatility and ease of use. Quadcopters can be used for a variety of purposes, from photography and filmmaking to search-and-rescue operations and package delivery.
What is a UAV?
A UAV, or drone, is a machine that can be flown remotely by a pilot or autonomously by a computer. As the name implies, they are unmanned, meaning they carry no human cargo.
UAVs are (generally, but not exclusively) small, light and manoeuvrable and capable of doing risky jobs that may be unsafe for pilots in manned aircraft to carry out. Some of the smaller craft can also operate indoors.
What are the benefits of using quadcopters as UAVs?
Quadcopters are very agile and easy-to-fix flying machines. Unlike traditional helicopters, the four rotors (and the gimbal) are the only things that move. The rest of the machine is static. As such, quadcopters are much more simplistic in design than other flying aircraft and are much easier to maintain.
Most small-scale quadcopters have been also designed with enclosures that protect the rotors in case of contact, making them more rugged than other UAVs. This allows them to traverse environments with tough surroundings that may damage other craft.
Quadcopters also use smaller fans than helicopters. These fans operate at lower speeds and cause less damage when they make contact. This means that quadcopters are safer than other flying aircraft for use in close quarter situations.
How do quadcopters work?
Quadcopters use four fans, or propellers, to push the aircraft up. By altering the speeds of the individual propellers, pitch, roll and yaw can be changed, allowing the quadrocopter to easily manoeuvre in the air. The propellers are placed into a configuration of two pairs; one pair spins clockwise, while the other spins counter clockwise.
To move forwards, the propeller at the front is slowed down, causing the nose of the quadrocopter to fall, thus pushing the craft forwards. Likewise, causing the back propeller to slow would cause the craft to move backwards.
To turn, both the front and back propellers are slowed, which causes the craft to turn clockwise. Turning off the left and right propellers would cause the craft to turn anti clockwise.
To rise vertically, all four propellers would be operating at equal speed.
What are quadrocopter UAVs used for?
Traditionally, fixed wing UAVs have been used by the military for several uses, including reconnaissance and providing long range imagery.
As technology has improved and become more affordable, UAVs are now being used in increasing numbers for ‘civilian’ operations. Firefighters are using UAVs to put out blazing fires while oil prospectors are using them to scan areas of land for oil. Police have also started to use UAVs to carry out surveillance with sensors capable of scanning car license plates and carrying out facial recognition.
Due to their simple design and relative ease of construction, hobbyist craft makers have started to build cheap and affordable UAVs for mass consumption. Inexpensive drones with cameras attached are now available, often with smartphone apps that allow the unit to be controlled by an iOS or Android device.
The Future of Quadcopters
As research is carried out and the technology matures, quadcopters will continue to become smaller, more manoeuvrable and cheaper to build. The potential uses for quadrocopter UAVs are endless. UAVs capable of all kinds of dull and dangerous tasks usually carried out by human beings are already in use.
The future looks bright for quadcopters. They have the potential to greatly change mankind for the better; hopefully, they live up to that potential.
UAS use in agriculture
According to the AUVSI (Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International), agriculture and similar rural industries show the greatest potential for using drones on a commercial basis, with some predictions suggesting these areas may account for up to 80 per cent of all unmanned aircraft commissions.
Maturing drone and sensor technologies have raised awareness of developing practical applications, paving the way for agri-tech and innovative farming techniques in a market some belief to be worth $30 billion over the next ten years.
Worldwide, the use of the UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) in agriculture is already well-established for data capture, frost mitigation, herding, inspection, precision agriculture, remote sensing, seeding, spraying, and variable rate dispersal. As might be anticipated, many Japanese small farmers are leading the way with precision seeding and spraying of rice fields, hiring operators who often combine multiple drones on different channel frequencies to complete a job.
Ancillary roles required of these UAVs include precise calculation of yield assessments, fertiliser applications, plus detecting and mapping invasive weeds.
Farmers in the USA are also pressing ahead with UAVs in agriculture, and many, like Idaho farmer Robert Blair, acknowledge the benefits. “It’s a great tool to collect information to make better decisions”, said Blair, “we’re just scratching the surface of what it can do for farmers.” Across America, farmers have deployed unmanned fixed-wing and multi-rotor aircraft systems armed with cameras and sensors for crop surveys, disease monitoring and more.
Hopes are high for future developments with applications such as bird-scaring, tree pollination, and water-supply forecasting all on the agenda. In Florida, helicopter drones fitted with infrared cameras are used to scan orange plantations for citrus greening bacteria – a devastating tree killer which is hard to detect because greening first strikes in the tree canopy.
Though there have been a few eco protests about agricultural drones, Blair is adamant farmers have the backing of the green lobby. “We’re talking surgical agriculture”, he says, “which allows us to be more environmentally friendly.“
Well positioned at the forefront of UAV technology, the UK has conducted research into the viability of imaging for land applications, principally in the high-input arable farming sector. Results highlight the benefit of remote sensing in rapidly capturing high-resolution data, a procedure impossible to replicate by other means.
In addition to ‘standard photographic images visible to the human eye’, operators have been able to capture wavelengths outside the visible spectrum, aiding ‘crop intelligence’, and leading to disease eradication and improved yields.
Aerial Filming with Thermal Cameras
Thermographic inspection from the air, using unmanned aircraft systems fitted with state-of-the-art thermal cameras has come of age with the advent of today’s generation of reliable and sophisticated fixed-wing and multi-rotor drones capable of carrying and deploying ultra-sensitive equipment. And now such facilities exist, industry, public services, and research interests – to name just a few interested parties – are reaping the benefits in terms of efficiency and cost saving, whilst also creating rapidly expanding employment opportunities worldwide in the fledgling field of UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) commercial applications.
Police, Fire and Rescue services were amongst the first to exploit thermal-imaging capabilities in their work, and thermal cameras are a well-established ‘tool of trade’. Firefighters can now use the enhanced capability offered by drones to speed life-saving search-and-rescue operations, quickly identify residual ‘hot spots’ after a major fire has been brought under control, and operate more efficiently in smoke and darkness.
Similarly, mountain rescue teams, coastguards and lifeboat services also employ UAV-assisted thermography when searching for survivors – often in adverse weather conditions – in water or across hostile terrain where, in the absence of a rapid response, hypothermia can be a major killer. The same technology assists policing, customs and private security organisations, tracking suspects at night and safeguarding high-security locations such as border crossings, ports, nuclear power plants, and petrochemical installations.
UAVs are also proving ultra-efficient monitoring and maintenance tools for the renewable-energy industry in providing detailed thermographic examinations of extensive photovoltaic systems – a task previously achieved at great expense using elevated skyworkers and/or tall elevated photographic tripods.
The smart solution now achieves rapid uncomplicated results using equipment such as the rig developed by the Swiss firm emetic Messtechnik AG in collaboration with their compatriots at Helipro GmbH. Describing the outcome, Helipro’s Marc Baumann explains: “Our drone hovers using electronic motors and has the flight properties of a hummingbird due to its lightweight, therefore it is possible to achieve aerial recording from new angles and at a height of up to 150 metres.”
As well as streamlining our future-oriented technologies, thermographic-equipped UAVs are also helping to revolutionise the precision with which archaeologists can now decode our past. Here, UAV-assisted thermography allows coverage of broad areas at precise speeds and fixed altitudes, involves minimal cost and processing, and is much less weather-dependent than traditional aerial-imaging systems.
Quick response is critical because, to gain the best results, such work must be undertaken whenever thermal values offer the greatest contrast between the ‘archaeological target’ and its covering materials – a situation tailor-made for UAV deployment.
UAS use for marketing property
The property market is one of the latest sectors to explore the benefits of UAS (unmanned aircraft systems) and their expanding commercial applications. In an industry where being ‘first to the market’ is often critical, the speed and ease with which drones/UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) can be deployed for a property survey is a major advantage.
Likewise, the quality and relevance of the photographic and video material generated, plus the additional interactive options available, make this an impressive marketing tool, both for selling property to clients and for giving agencies using such methods a hi-tech profile and thus a ‘competitive edge’.
Some types of buildings may prove difficult to access and photograph by normal means, or the access may be dangerous or otherwise restricted. Such properties might, for example, include historic listed buildings, unusually tall buildings, inaccessible roof structures and similar. In all such circumstances, a UAS survey would provide marketing images and data without the need for extensive, or extended, access permissions.
In addition, full-blown traditional surveys of large commercial sites for property-market purposes are costly and time-consuming, and here a UAV not only does the job quickly and well but also provides a helpful site overview as well as good quality close-up images. Furthermore, a UAV survey is much less likely to interrupt work schedules.
Precise aircraft control alongside the deployment of gyro-stabilised high-resolution camera equipment gives clients the option of full 360-degree, three-axis imaging, and sophisticated camera tilt, zoom and shutter functions allow close, real-time control of the entire process. And where HD video is used to capture information, the ability to pause on demand means that high-quality stills can also be extracted from the resultant footage whenever required.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of all is the live video link relaying aerial images direct to a ground station screen. This interactive facility enables clients to monitor and direct the kind of images the UAV will secure, and all results can be reviewed instantly.
Inspection and maintenance
The survey process is very similar when properties are inspected for damage, or as part of a regular maintenance schedule. Once again, the ease with which a UAS system can gain close-up, and instant access to roof areas and other hard-to-reach locations beats hauling platforms and towers around the site every time. And because the operation is quick and cheaper than traditional methods, companies are finding that this aspect of building maintenance is starting to look much more affordable.
UAS Use in Garden Design
The use of Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS) has increased rapidly due to their cost effectiveness and the ease with which they can access inhospitable terrain. Many surveyors now use UASs to get accurate images of land which they can pass on to clients in the building and development fields. However, they also can be of great value to those in the landscaping business.
To achieve the best results, a landscaping specialist needs the most accurate picture of the area they will work on and UASs are an ideal way to achieve this; it is of particular use when the project involves a large space, such as a public park or golf course. The UAS not only gives a complete visual record of what grows in each area but can deliver corresponding measurements to support the images.
As a project develops, despite the benefits of using computer models to predict outcomes, it sometimes becomes apparent that a plan needs to be adjusted. This may simply involve swapping the positions of key components or it may require more drastic action, such as removing elements and introducing new ones. To ensure that a project is developing as hoped, as well as to enable a reassessment where necessary, fresh images from a UAS should be scheduled at strategic points after commencement.
Customer satisfaction is the end goal for any landscaper, as with all business enterprises, and aerial shots collected via a UAS can be used to demonstrate to customers that you have accomplished the task as agreed. Customers can appreciate the real differences when viewed as a series of progress-tracking images. These images would also be extremely useful for advertising purposes when used to show accomplishments on a website or in brochures.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (AUV) pilots and providers can certainly tap into the current growth of brownfield development by promoting the benefits of UASs over traditional surveys alone. In addition to this, the trend for landscaping existing property rather than moving on means that many homeowners are looking to maximise the potential of their gardens and other attached lands. Over time, certainly, the scope for using UASs in business can only broaden as people realise their vast potential.
The benefits of UAVs in film and television
It doesn’t seem long since Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) – or ‘drones’ to most novices – were celebrated as new technology and, in recent months, their presence in the media has been largely negative, being dominated by stories of near-misses with passenger aircraft.
Often overshadowed by this coverage, the positive benefits of UAVs in film and television are overlooked, yet they offer cinematographers a far more cost-effective, practical and unobtrusive alternative to traditional methods of obtaining aerial footage.
Ultimate practicality at a fraction of the cost
UAVs can produce the same high-definition aerial and crane shots as traditional filming methods, rendering costly alternatives, such as cranes, jibs and cable cameras, redundant. Consequently, cinematographers can enjoy a variety of benefits, from faster set-up times (typically, UAVs can be ready to fly within 10 minutes) to less bulky equipment transportation to and from the filming location.
Not only does this mean increased productivity, with less emphasis on the physical management of equipment, but much lower costs which, for most film projects, is a triumph worth celebrating.
Jibs, cranes and cable cameras have their strengths, but the field of vision from the lens is still restricted, with a limited variety of angles without the inconvenience of repositioning equipment. UAVs offer complete 360° sight, with a change in height, depth and angle all possible with little more than a flick of the wrist, much like the ease of altering the direction of a remote-controlled car. With unsurpassable manoeuvrability, UAVs give filmmakers complete control of their project and the ability to cherry-pick the optimum angle and distance that simply isn’t possible with any other form of aerial or crane photography.
UAVs also offer filmmakers the possibility of venturing safely into inhospitable or dangerous terrain – there’s pretty much nowhere they can’t fly. From erupting volcanoes to the rock face nesting sites of sea birds, locations once accessible only by manned helicopter – with the associated costs and environmental damage – are now easily reached by cheaper, quieter and more cost-effective unmanned alternatives.
Put simply, UAVs can travel just about anywhere in the world, are transportable in hand luggage, and can send high-definition footage wirelessly to a mobile device close by. For cinematographers and documentary makers, this represents the exciting potential to move filmmaking onto a new level.
For amateur cinematographers and Hollywood directors alike, UAVs are creating a tsunami in filmmaking techniques, expanding opportunities for creative and factual filmmaking to levels never experienced before.