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Rise of the UAV: adopting drone tech

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), commonly known as drones, have transformed the technological operating environment. Their ability to explore hard-to-reach areas make them an indispensable necessity for almost all industries. Drones are also relatively inexpensive to manufacture at scale and can operate with increased payloads for prolonged periods. From a safety perspective, drones are fast becoming the ideal choice for many businesses as they ensure the safety of lives with their unmanned operating capability. 

Drone market snapshot: trends and forecasts

Markets and Markets expect the UAV market to grow from USD 27.4 billion in 2021 to USD 58.4 billion by 2026, at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 16.4%. Even more exciting is PWCs estimation that the emerging global market for business services using drones is valued at over $127 billion. This is all thanks to the growing applications in respective sectors that drones are fulfilling day by day across the globe. 

North America is projected to account for the biggest portion of the UAV market, while exponential growth is also projected in the markets of India, China, Japan, Australia and Turkey. Defense currently contributes the largest slice of the drone market at $17.7 billion, with a projected growth rate of 10.8% annually through 2025. Other sectors experiencing rapid growth are agriculture, construction and mining, insurance, media and telecommunications, as well as law enforcement. 

This thriving operating environment has invited many drone manufacturers to market. The state of increased competition and rapid mass production have not only pushed down the cost of drones but also made them smarter, safer and easier to operate.

Rise of the UAV

This thriving operating environment has invited many drone manufacturers to market. The state of increased competition and rapid mass production have not only pushed down the cost of drones but also made them smarter, safer and easier to operate. With additional convergence of new technologies like sense and avoid systems, artificial intelligence (AI), and information technologies (IT), demand for drones is growing even higher. Through these technologies, drones can safely take-off and land, securely navigate, as well as rapidly capture and transmit data for human action.  

Sensors increase drone functionality

Technological advancements in hardware, motors and sensors have added to the multi-functional use of drones, while also cost-effectively optimizing their use in existing applications. Even referred to as the secret to a drone’s success, sensors are one such technology. Sensors are key in providing drones with sense and perception for applications such as surveying, mapping, collision avoidance, safe take-off and landing, as well as position hold.   

Sensor defined: 

A sensor is a device that detects and responds to a physical stimulus, such as light, sound, heat, pressure and even motion. Sensors have become sophisticated pieces of equipment, able to sense, feel, hear, and even taste. 

Sensors have transformed drones into multi-functional machines capable of performing numerous jobs. They also enable drones to capture data and process information. Here’s a snapshot of some of today’s most popular sensors for drones: 

Sensor tech 1: LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging)

The integration of LiDAR with UAV technology has created a world of possibilities and time efficiency for industries like construction, engineering, mining, wildlife conservation, as well as safety and security, to mention just a few.

LiDAR is a sensor technology that uses light in the form of laser pulses to measure distance. Through Time of Flight (ToF), LiDAR measures the time it takes for a sensor to emit a laser into the surrounding environment, deflect off objects and return to the sensor. 

LiDAR sensors give UAVs additional ‘’eyes’’ for it to safely navigate surroundings, detect movement, objects, and measure distances at rapid speed. LiDAR also equips a UAV with accurate height above ground altitude, position hold and terrain-following capability to ensure a safe and secure flight. Through its advanced navigation and beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) technology, LiDAR opens a whole new world for tech-driven businesses and their UAV requirements. 

Technological advancements coupled with mass production have transformed LiDAR sensors to be affordable, small, lightweight and low power devices.

Key features and benefits of LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors for drones: 

  • Small Form

Designed for size and weight constrained applications, LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors weigh as little as 8.8 grams and measure as small as 22 x 34 x 21 mm. This is the essential benefit that sets LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors apart from the rest. 

  • Cost-effective

LiDAR sensors had a reputation for being expensive, but that has changed with technology and mass production. This makes them the ideal sensor option for many UAV applications. 

  • Accuracy and precision

Fast update rates of up to 20 000 measurements per second make LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors extremely precise. This accuracy is not affected by extreme weather conditions such as rain, fog, wind and even direct sunlight.

  • Low power consumption

Being light and small, LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors are designed to consume low power. This is often the essential factor for drones that need to fly longer single trips with revenue generating payloads. 

  • Seamless data retrieval

All LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors are compatible with many ‘plug and play’ software applications that provide instant download and analysis of data in an organized dashboard view. 

  • Reliability and safety

Mounted in a vertical or horizontal lens orientation, all LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors emit light at a wavelength of 905 nanometers (nm), providing an ideal balance between reliability and eye safety. Shorter wavelengths are more hazardous, whereas longer wavelengths are less reliable.

  • Privacy

As data privacy and protection demands increase, LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors play an important role in that they process objects and not images. This ensures no invasion of privacy.

Sensor tech 2: Inertial Measurement Units (IMUs)

Often included with a drone on-purchase, IMUs are sensors that measure and calculate acceleration, speed, direction, orientation, altimetry and velocity of a UAV. They can also detect magnetic fields surrounding the drone or UAV. Types of inertial measurement unit sensors include gyroscopes, accelerometers and magnetometers. 

As an added layer of safety and precision, small form and lightweight LiDAR sensors are added to the drone setup. LiDAR / IMU sensor fusion is often the critical consideration when expensive or sensitive payloads are in-transit. 

Sensor tech 3: Photogrammetry 

Photogrammetry makes use of cameras to create photographic images that map, measure and obtain additional information about the environment. An advantage of photographs is their ability to provide clear visual details of an object and surrounding environment. Conversely, a major disadvantage is that they cannot render point clouds for a detailed data analysis. A potential solution to this challenge would be supplementing a photogrammetry setup with a LightWare microLiDAR™. Another disadvantage of photographs is the concern of invasion of privacy, specifically when used in public spaces. 

Sensor tech 4: Thermal imaging 

Able to detect heat, thermal imaging, or night vision technology, is ideal for underground or dark environments. Objects in the environment emit heat that is made up of long wavelength infrared radiation (invisible to the human eye). A sensor converts this infrared radiation into a visible picture, allowing scientists and engineers to measure temperature differences in the target environment. Since thermal imaging uses cameras, invasion of privacy issues is again a concern. 

Adopting drone technology: a checklist 

Drones are rapidly changing the way people and businesses interact. With so many applications still to fill, we thought it useful to include a checklist for businesses looking to use the power of drones to streamline production and increase profits. If you answer yes to one or more of the below questions, you’re ready to adopt drone technology! 

Is your business ready to?

  • distance workers from dangerous work environments? 
  • access difficult-to-reach locations? 
  • reduce the number of workers required for a job? 
  • limit the number of steps in an operating process? 
  • complete tasks more efficiently and effectively?
  • cut operating costs and increase profits?

Essential Read: the future of LiDAR is now

Fit for multi-use: microLiDAR™ 

LightWare microLiDAR™ sensors provide enhanced depth perception for UAVs of any size. This gives your drone ‘’eyes’’ to safely navigate surroundings, detect movement, objects, and measure distances at rapid speed.

Our microLiDAR™ sensors have a minimum scanning range of 50 meters in bright sunlight or rain, making it ideal for a wide range of applications including altitude measurement, obstacle detection, sense and avoid, SLAM (simultaneous localization & mapping), and more. 

Partner with us
Contact us on [email protected] and we’ll partner to achieve your LiDAR objectives. 

End of range sale alert! 

Get your SF22/C microLiDAR™ sensor today for only $149! Only 9 remain in stock and they’re clearing fast. 

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