A Better Design for Aerial Drones
Aerial Drones in Industry
The rise of aerial drones as a method of expediting tasks that would otherwise pose significant risk to workers or require a menial workforce has become prevalent in many major companies in the last several years. Companies such as Amazon, EasyJet, DHL, and Walmart have all begun investigating drone systems to facilitate certain jobs and responsibilities that would otherwise require a significant workforce to accomplish. Duties such as package delivery, vehicle inspection and surveying require a certain minimum level of interaction to be effectively completed. However, many of these tasks, coupled with existing technologies such as GPS and efficient image-recognition software, require minimal critical problem solving abilities and are thus prime for automation.
While some companies have effectively deployed drone systems and others are in the mere planning and design stages, as the use of drones across all industries increases, the need for drones that use energy efficiently, or rather re-use, will become more apparent. These machines require an energy source, and with every new drone that is rolled out of production and into the workforce, the upkeep and energy required to maintain the workforce increases. Thus, for a large set of drones, even the slightest innovation in reducing energy consumption could produce large-scale benefits.
Enter the bat: in addition to inspiring one of the most renowned super-heroes of all time, the bat has also inspired Alireza Ramezani, an Assistant Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Northeastern University, and his team to develop new design for landing gear in aerial drones. Ramezani’s design would allow aerial drones to land and hang on structures such as steel frames or other small spaces for the purposes of storage as well as surveillance and monitoring while hanging from structures, much like a bat would.
The idea behind the design is to conserve the energy drone uses during landing and takeoff by mimicking the way in which a bat hangs upside-down from a support structure, such as a branch or a rafter in a building. Currently, aerial drones use wheel-based landing gears in fixed-wing systems, conventional landing gears in vertical take-off and landing (VTOL), or rotary-wing systems. While these systems are effective, they are energy-hungry, meaning they consume significant resources from a dedicated power source. However, by hanging upside down, an aerial drone can harness existing energy in the environment to take off and land, thereby conserving its own energy consumption. This means that there is less energy required by a drone of this bat-like design to perform the same tasks as its existing counterparts.
Additionally, drones of this design requires only a sufficiently sturdy beam or similar structure from which to hang. In situations where other drones might need to hover for an extended period of time for tasks such as inspection or surveillance, this design allows for the drone to hang from a high vantage point without consuming any power while still maintaining an aerial view of the environment.
The Future of Drones
According to a report by Fortune Business Insight, “the global commercial drone market size, valued at USD 1.20 billion in 2018, is projected to reach USD 6.30 billion by 2026, at a CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) of 23.37% during the forecast period.” Grand View Research states in its own report on the use of drones that “the global demand for fixed-wing drones is poised to expand at a CAGR of over 60% in terms of volume from 2019 to 2025.” As the market for drones increases, the companies that implement an energy-efficient design early on will benefit from large-scale implementation of aerial drones down the line.
One of the issues in employing new technologies is ensuring those technologies scale well with increased production, and design aspects that seem trivial or unimportant on a micro scale become glaring with widespread implementation. As automation becomes more prevalent and fiscally responsible, the focus of cost-savings will shift from the analysis of using a human work force vs an automated workforce to different methods of implementing automation. The technologies that efficiently distribute energy consumption will be the ones that see production. Ramezani’s bat-inspired design offers a solution employed by evolution itself to reduce energy consumption in multiple capacities, making it a prime technology as industries continue to increase the implementation of aerial drones into their workforce.