A Drone’s Components: Guide for BeginnersAnhK
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Drone technology is one of the most outstanding inventions throughout the long history. They have become more and more common nowadays and are used in a variety of sectors.
We can sometimes see a drone fly in the sky for recreational purposes. While, on the other hand, most of the drones are made for photography, commercial, and military activities. The more modern the drone is, the more upgraded their components get. So, are you curious about how this versatile device is formed? Let’s follow our article to get the drones’ overview and find out the components of a drone.
What Is a Drone?
Drones are known as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UASes). Basically, a drone is a flying robot which can be under remote control or fly autonomously via software-controlled flight plans in its embedded systems, working in collaboration with onboard sensors and GPS.
A Brief of Drones’ History
The UAVs have been introduced for a long time and were initially used for military purposes. The very first launch of a UAV dates back to 1849 when the Austrians invaded Venice – Italian city, using unmanned balloons loaded with explosives.
Though balloon would not be regarded as a UAV today, it was a technology the Austrians had been researching and developing for months to prepare for the battle, leading to successive advancements. In 1915, the British military utilized aerial photography, capturing more than 1,500 sky view maps. The United States commenced developing UAV technology in the time of the First World War and made the first pilotless aircraft. In 1930, the U.S Navy began testing with radio-controlled aircraft, contributing to the birth of the Curtiss N2C-2 finished in 1937.
Drones were formerly considered as an unreliable and a luxurious toy; however, there was a change of this attitude in the 1980s. Later, the drone, known as RQ2 Pioneer, was introduced and became a medium-sized reconnaissance aircraft.
In 2014, Amazon made a proposal to use UAVs to deliver packages to the customers, and a number of real-estate companies are utilizing drones to shoot promotional videos.
Types of Drones
Basically, there are two main types of drone platforms: rotor and fixed-wing. In particular, rotor type is then divided into single-rotor or multi-rotor such as tricopters, quadcopters, hexacopters, and octocopters. While, on the other hand, the fixed-wing genre includes the hybrid vertical takeoff and landing drones that don’t call for runways.
Drones can also be classified as either personal/ hobbyist or commercial/ enterprise.
There is now a wide availability of personal drones for consumer use, bringing out HD videos, camera photographs, or just to fly around. These drones often have a weight from less than 1 pound to 10 pounds.
More capable and powerful drones are also offered for use in commercial settings. Sensors available consist of electro-optic imagers, infrared markers, mid-wave infrared imagers, and laser rangefinders.
Tethered drones are another choice in spite of being physically tethered to a base station. Several tethered drones can deal with the challenge many drones face with regard to the power supply if the tether gives a direct power supply.
For a detailed description of drones, check our early post DRONES GUIDE: Everything You Need to Know About Drones
Components of a Drone and Their Functions
Drones are formed from a number of components. Let’s discover drones’ basic working principle, then learn more about their separate components to understand what their functions are.
How a Drone Works
While drones play a role in various activities, for example recreational, commercial, photography, and military, they carry two fundamental functions that are flight and navigation.
For proper operation, a drone is composed of a power source like battery or fuel, rotors, propellers, and a frame. The drone’s frame is commonly made of lightweight, composite materials to minimize weight and improve maneuverability during the flight.
Drones need a controller that is used remotely by an operator to start, navigate, and land. Controllers communicate with the drone by using radio waves, including Wi-Fi.
Components to Form a Drone
1. Standard Propellers
As the very first component of a drone to mention, standard propellers play a vital role in a drone’s operation. The “tractor-type” propellers are the ones positioned at the front of the drone. These propellers pull the drone through the air the same as a tractor. Though a number of drones like the DJI Phantom appear to be the same from any angle, there is actually a front and back.
While most of the drone propellers are made of plastic, some models with better quality are made of carbon fiber. For better safety, you are recommended to add drone propeller guards if the drone is going to fly indoors or near people.
There have been various innovations towards the propeller design. Propellers with a better design will make a contribution to a smoother flying experience and extended flight times. The low-noise UAV propellers are also an area where there is plenty of research.
It will be great to inspect the propellers before flying and bring a spare set of propellers along in case some damage is noticed.
2. Pusher Propellers
The pusher propellers are placed at the back of the drone and, as its name suggests, push the drone forward. These contra-rotating propellers eliminate the motor torques throughout the stationary level flight. Meanwhile, the opposite pitch results in the downdraft. The pusher propellers are commonly made of plastic, while the better ones are made from carbon fiber. It is advised to prepare guards for the pusher props.
Also, you should inspect the pusher propellers before each flight and take an extra set along.
3. Brushless Motors
In reality, all the most recent drones utilize a brushless electric “out-runner” genre, making it one of the essential components of a drone. This is more reliable, more efficient, and quieter compared to a brushed motor. Motor with higher efficiency not only saves battery life but also gives the operator more flying time.
Notably, the design of the drone motor is quite exciting. For example, the motor design of DJI features a new curved magnet that fits faultlessly around the motor, enabling the motor to run more efficiently.
It is necessary to look over the motors frequently to ensure that they are clean and dust-free. At the same time, let’s pay attention to how the drone sounds and listen to it. The main sound is from the motor. In case the drone doesn’t sound properly, then inspect it.
4. Motor Mount
The drone motor mount is often integrated into the combination fittings with landing struts or can form a part of the UAV frame. It is not easy to replace most of the parts on the drones.
When using the drone, you should examine the motor mounts and areas close to the motors to find out stress cracks. If the stress cracks are found and the drone is still under warranty, then send it to the agency and have it fixed.
Besides, it is needed to check the new drone that you have received. Particularly, let’s inspect the areas around the motor mounts or where screws are utilized. Screws are sometimes wound too tight, leading to the frame crack, so a careful check is required.
5. Landing Gear
Drones that require high ground clearance may apply helicopter-style kids mounted right to the body while other variants without hanging payload may remove the entire landing gear. A lot of fixed-wing drones that occupy large distances such as Trimble UX5 or SenseFly eBee are not equipped with landing gear and land well on their body.
While most drones feature a fixed-landing gear, it will be ideal if the drones are built with retractable landing gear, allowing a full 360-degree view when flying. You can purchase leg height extenders for the most updated drone versions. Also, a big landing mat will assist in flying in areas where there is long grass. This cooperates with other components of a drone to obtain the best performance.
While longer booms improve stability, shorter booms reinforce maneuverability. Booms need to be tough to hold up in a crash and minimize interfering with propeller downdraft. The boom is part of the body, as in the design of many drones. Other drones are engineered with a definite boom as an independent part.
It is essential to examine the boom to make sure that it is not bent, preventing the flying experience from faults.
7. Main Drone Body Part
Main drone body part, as one of the indispensable components of a drone, is the central hub for booms to radiate. It accommodates the battery, main boards, cameras, processors avionics, and sensors.
Talking about the main body part, it is worth noting that most drones are not waterproof, so the internal components of the main body should be prevented from getting wet. A hard landing may not smash the drone body, but the shock can result in the damage of the internal drone parts in the major body.
If electronic engineering and soldering are not your strength, then you can learn particularly about your internal components, including the main board of the drone.
8. Electronic Speed Controllers
An electronic speed controller (ESC) is an electronic circuit designed to adjust an electric motor’s speed, its direction, and perhaps to perform as a dynamic brake. Also, it plays a role in converting DC battery power into 3-phase AC for running brushless motors.
ESCs are considered as a vital component of modern drones, bringing out high frequency, high power, high-resolution 3-phase AC power for the motors. All of these can be processed just in a compact miniature package.
In addition, the ESCs are placed inside the main drone frame, and users don’t need to touch or do anything with them. However, some drones can be customized, depending on each situation. In case the manufacturer has Special Development Kit for the model, then you can customize the device on your own. This kit enables you to re-program the ESCs as other drone components as well.
9. Flight Controller
Input from the receiver, battery monitor, GPD module, IMU, and other onboard sensors are interpreted by the flight controller. Its function is to manage the motor speeds via ESCs, to supply steering, and to trigger cameras or other payloads.
The control range of this component includes waypoint, autopilot, follow me, failsafe, and numerous other autonomous functions. This flight controller is central to the entire functioning of the UAV.
It is not necessary to do anything or adjust the flight controller. If you desire to have a customized impact on the drone, then a model with SDK and mentioned above can work for you.
10. GPS Module
By combining both the GPS receiver and magnetometer, the GPD module provides longitude, latitude, elevation, and compass heading from a single device. GPS is a vital element for waypoint navigation and various other autonomous flight modes.
Drones would be limited in their functions without the integration of GPS. Together with FPV, drones can execute navigation over a long distance and be utilized for fascinating applications, namely making 3D images using LIDAR and photogrammetry sensors.
Several latest models of drones have equipped Glonass that is the equivalent of GPS, coming from Russia. This can be interpreted that the drone is guaranteed to find more satellite to get its location from. Both systems allow you to fly more accurately and also can fly with higher safety since you won’t be disconnected from the satellites. This is a vital plus to the whole components of a drone.
What’s more, most of the drones enable you to program in a failsafe home point. It means that the drone can fly back to a position if it is disconnected from the remote controller. The requirement of satellites is essential for most drones. If you are going to buy a drone, consider the one that comes with both GPS and Glonass.
11. The Receiver
It is often a standard r/c radio receiver unit. The number of channels is based on the device, in which the minimum number to control a drone is 4, but 5 is commonly suggested. There are a variety of manufacturers of receivers on the market for your reference.
The antenna used for the drone depends on the receiver. In fact, it may be a helical “rubber ducky” type or a loose wire whip. It is quite easy to upgrade the antenna. With a circularly polarized cloverleaf antenna, you can achieve further video signal distance and enhanced video stability. You will also no longer need to worry about the problem of the multi-path effect and blind angle if a premium antenna is included.
The battery is regarded as a part of the drone allowing all actions and reactions to happen. It plays a vital role in powering the device for proper and effective operation. Different drones call for different battery features. Each battery can work best for a particular drone. Specifically, smaller drones may require smaller batteries because of the lower power demand. On the other hand, bigger drones may need a larger battery to power all the functioning of components of a drone.
On the market, lithium polymer or LiPo batteries bring us the best combination of energy density, power density, and lifetime for the best performance of the drone.
14. Battery Monitor
The drone is also equipped with a battery monitor that provides the battery information to the pilot. This helpS the pilot to track the performance of the battery.
The battery monitor also provides the flight controller with the in-flight power level monitoring. It contributes significantly to safe flying. If the drone flies too far from the controlling place and gradually runs out of battery, it will make an emergency or have a crash.
The gimbal of the drone is the pivoting amount, rotating towards the X, Y, and Z axes to give the device stabilization and pointing of camera or other sensors. The quality of the camera cannot be perfectly shown without the existence of a great gimbal. The gimbal is an indispensable component to take great photos and video shots.
With the low-quality gimbal and camera set on the drone, it is impossible to take excellent photos or videos. There are some problems related to this situation, such as rolling shutter, jello, and barrel effect. If you recognize the problem of jello effect due to the vibration from the drone getting to the camera, then think about installing or replacing the gimbal dampers. The timely action can lead to a big improvement.
16. Gimbal Motor
Manufacturers may add brushless DC motors for direct drive angular positioning. These motors are produced with specially-wound coils and dedicated control circuitry. This technological design has just recently become widely available for commerce.
17. Gimbal Controller Unit
Along with gimbal and gimbal motor, gimbal controller unit was also introduced as a part of the drone. This allows controlling the direct-drive brushless gimbal motors.
Camera is an integral component to take great photos or video shots. It is typical to mention GoPro or other compact high definition video unit along with on-board storage. The latest drones such as the DJI Mavic Mini, the DJI Mavic 2 Pro and Zoom offer you the real-time streaming. Other examples of drones that can live stream are Mavic Pro, DJI Mavic Air, Spark, the Phantom 4 Pro and the top professional Inspire 2 filming drone.
A number of drone manufacturers provide gimbals that are compatible with the GoPro Hero camera range. GoPro also used to launch their own Karma drone but stopped its presence as of January 2018. The modern drones are all in one, which means both gimbal and camera are integrated. The cameras and lens are particularly designed for aerial filming and photography.
As you may know, drones are usually used for aerial filming and photography. However, in fact, drones can do more than that. Evidently, we can find out the information about the drones which are equipped with LIDAR, thermal, and many other types of sensors. Together with other components of a drone, these are mounted onto the device and applied in a variety of sectors.
Drones today can come with two main types of sensors, one of which is 3D sensors, while the other is known as collision avoidance sensors. Let’s take a look at these kinds of sensors as follows.
The mounted camera, together with the GPS, can be utilized to take accurate 3D photogrammetry images. To create 3D maps or models, all you need is a top drone with a camera and GPS. The drone will capture the images and any of these top photogrammetry software applications will stitch the photos into 3D maps or models.
In reality, 3D mapping or photogrammetry mapping is regarded as the science of making measurements from photographs. The photogrammetry software typically releases the products as a 3D map, a 3D drawing or a 3D model of some landmass or real-world object. While flying a mapped route and taking photos at periodic intervals per second, these images are consequently stitched together to form 3D photogrammetry images.
Collision Avoidance Sensors
The second type to mention is on-board sensors for collision avoidance using Ultrasonic (Sonar), Infrared, Monocular Vision, Time-of-Flight (ToF) LIDAR, and Vision Sensors. Each type of sensor is used appropriately to achieve the desired goals.
Drones are essential for the development of various fields, making it a great device to take aerial photos, video shots, and other purposes. The article has presented a broad picture of drones about their definition, brief history, and classification so that you can have a thorough idea of this flying object. Then, components of a drone have also been vividly described, giving the reader the functions of all drone parts. Hopefully, the information is useful to you. Thank you for reading!