With rapid technological advancements, automation is now a part of nearly every industry. Similarly, the global aviation industry is also witnessing various applications, advantages, and challenges of automation technology in the form of unmanned aeriel vehicles (UAVs).
Aircraft are the most valuable asset in the aviation industry and have been used for various military as well as commercial purposes. There are mainly two types of aircraft, manned and unmanned. A manned aircraft is controlled by a human pilot who is present inside the aircraft, whereas an unmanned aircraft is remotely controlled with the help of a communication link.
UAVs consist of components such as sensor payloads and a ground control station. They can be controlled by onboard electronic equipment or through the control equipment from the ground. Most UAVs use radio frequency and cellular network technology to establish a communication link with the ground station. UAVs are adopting satellite communication (SATCOM) as there is an increase in the demand for UAVs to operate in beyond the visual line of sight (BVLOS). SATCOM not only provides a wide range of connectivity in BVLOS but also enables a secured communication data link that is critical for military operations.
Initially, the main application of unmanned aeriel vehicles was for military purposes. The concept of the unmanned vehicle was first introduced in 1839 by Austrian soldiers. Austrians made hot air balloons filled with explosives in it and attacked the city of Venice. The development of UAVs started during World War 1 around 1915 when the British army used them for aerial photography in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.
Currently, unmanned aeriel vehicles are being used for observation and tactical planning. They are classified based on altitude range, endurance, and weight and support a wide range of applications, including military and commercial applications. UAVs are fitted with high-precision cameras that can navigate around the disaster area, take pictures and enable the crew members to do a structural analysis of the situation with the help of images.
Due to various applications in crucial situations such as military operations and disaster management, as well as the rapid technological advancements, the UAV market is predicted to witness significant growth.
According to the BIS Research report, the global unmanned aerial vehicle market was estimated at $22.91 billion in 2019 and is projected to grow at a CAGR of 13.27% during the forecast period from 2020 to 2025.
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However, certain challenges such as stringent government regulations for unmanned aeriel vehicles and the vulnerability of protection of satellite communication links from cyber-attacks are proving to be a hindrance in the growth of UAV technology. A few of the advantages and challenges are further discussed in the article.
Advantages of Unmanned Aeriel Vehicles
- High-quality aeriel imaging– UAVs are equipped with high-resolution cameras along with quality sensors that enable them to take high-quality aerial images and videos and accumulate a large amount of data. The data obtained is transformed into detailed 3D maps and 3D models for a complete analysis. This feature helps in capturing and analyzing crucial data in military operations as well as commercial uses.
- Precision technology in various fields- unmanned aeriel vehicles integrated with the global positioning system (GPS) technology enables them to reach precisely specific locations. For instance, in precision agriculture, drones are used to perform many farming tasks such as pesticide spraying, identification of weeds, monitoring crop health, crop damage, crop assessment, field soil analysis, and Irrigation monitoring, etc.
- Enhancing security systems– One of the main purposes of the application of unmanned aeriel vehicles in defense as well as commercial spaces is for the support it provides to the security systems with its unique and advanced features.
- Ability to reach remote areas – UAVs can obtain efficient data from remote locations quite easily. It is the most suitable alternative to overcome the limitations of traditional methods regarding worker safety, especially in extreme weather situations.
- Cost-effective technology – UAVs are no longer equipped only for the military, law authorities, or the elite. Since UAVs take over several workforces, vehicles, and operation activities in commercial uses, mainly due to their cost-effectiveness. For instance, a drone is more economical to buy, sustain, and fuel than aeroplanes for inspections. In addition, it also saves other infrastructural costs such as the ladder, aerial lifts, and other heavy equipment.
Challenges of Unmanned Aeriel Vehicles
- Complex technology and lack of expertise– The unmanned aeriel vehicle is based on complex technological mechanisms that require expert technicians who can make the vehicles beyond the prototype stage to enable large-scale deployment. Yet, few manufacturers could produce reasonably priced UAVs capable of fulfilling crucial military and commercial purposes.
- Infrastructure- Availability of infrastructure to manufacture and operate UAVs remain a huge challenge. This includes hardware like runways or catapults, cellular coverage, maintenance, air traffic management, and the human capital to manage and grow complex aerial robotics systems.
- Regulations and policy- Many countries across the world still have stringent policies regarding the use of UAVs for commercial purposes. Currently, the countries are mainly comfortable with its use in the defense industry, which in turn restricts the access to the full potential of this technology.
- Proper communication– UAV programs need to sensitize those who use unmanned aeriel vehicles regarding the communities impacted by the UAV activity. It is crucial to notify the process before flights and a clearly articulated crisis response plan for emergencies.
- Business model and partnerships– Manufacturing and using the UAV technology is an expensive affair. It is essential to construct viable business models to ensure long-term financial sustainability, and the stakeholders should outline how an organization intends to fund its innovation and operationalize its intervention, including up-front and ongoing costs.
With the clear advantages and disadvantages, the market stakeholders, researchers, and manufacturers are working toward overcoming the challenges and making full use of UAV technologies. Heavy investments are being made by the key market players to develop more secure and strong UAVs. At the same time, governments across the world are making flexible regulations for the proper use of unmanned vehicles, especially for military purposes.