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Jay Dirnberger

3/12/15

The subject of drones was updated by our own, Jay Dirnberger.  Jay reminded us that this is a fast changing field and that flying platform drones no longer monopolize this category.  There are six basic missions for drones.  These are:

  • Target & decoy
  • Recon
  • Combat
  • Research & development
  • Civil & commercial
  • Criminal

Up to now the major focus has been on flying platform drones.  Simple in nature, their true civil and commercial value lies in the fields of optics, data gathering and photography. The benefits of all drones include the following:

  • No person involved in the drone
  • Inexpensive
  • Endurance
  • Precision
  • Elusive
  • Layers of oversight

Of course, there are also drawbacks in drone use.  These include:

  • Air space (interfering with commercial flights and clogging airways)
  • Accidents
  • Loss of Control
  • Too much information gathered (information overload)
  • Too easy to go to war (no humans at risk)
  • Due process (the lack of)
  • Privacy (lack thereof)

The interest in drones has expanded exponentially with some universities like the University of North Dakota offering degrees in drone study. There has also been technological research and development in collision avoidance systems to make commercial use more practical in developed areas where there are numerous obstacles in the air (planes) and near the ground (trees, wires houses, etc.)   But at the same time The FAA has issued restrictive regulations on drone use. 

Although, there has been much discussion concerning commercial deliveries by drone, Jay is only aware of one such successful use.  This is a system devised by DHL to deliver medical supplies to a remote island where there are few, if any, objects for the drone to collide with or injure.  The only commercial use approved by the FAA in this country involves the movie industry where they use drones for some difficult film shots.

Some of the newer uses of drones have gotten away from flying platforms.  One such use is the development of balloon drones.  Although used primarily by the military at this time, these drones can be launched from practically anywhere.  They can achieve altitudes of 70,000 feet and maintain their position for long periods of time and are solar powered.  Their primary uses are for surveillance and monitoring events on the ground, which they can do from a great height because of their extraordinary optics.

Another newer drone use is as gliders made for underwater use.  Originally constructed for mine detection, they are now used for scientific research on things like climate change.  Although slow moving, these underwater drones are capable of prolonged use periods and capable of traveling extensive distances.  Such drones have also grown into a hobby industry.  Their manufacture is dominated by small companies, but larger ones are looking into this field.

Q&A

Q.  Wouldn’t it be difficult to stop a multiple drone attack/

A.  This would be a serious problem, but most drones are fairly small and not capable of doing much damage.

Q.  Isn’t there a great deal of stress among drone pilots?

A.  There is a lot of stress.  Oversight probably adds to that stress.

Q.  Were undersea drones used in the search for the missing Malaysian plane?

A.  Yes, but they are very slow and have a huge area to cover.

Q.  What are the major problems for commercial use of drones?

A.  Delivery is probably not a fruitful area of development, but optical scanning and data collection hold great promise.  Any job that is boring and requires surveillance over a large area is perfect for a drone.

Q.  Can drones take off and land on aircraft carriers?

A.  Yes

Q.  Who manufactures military drones?

A.  It’s a small firm on the west coast.  But flying platform drones are constructed in many countries,  though those countries don’t have our optics.

Q.  Are drones useful for news organizations and sporting activities?

A.  Some college football teams use drones to film practices, so they could be used for games or to cover news events.

Q.  Are drones used in research for global warming?

A.  Underwater drones are used for this.  I am unaware of flying platform drones used for this purpose.

Q.  Has technology helped to improve drones?

A.  It has, but the advancements have only been incremental in the case of flying platform drones.  There is only so far you can go.

Q.  What is the mode of propulsion for the underwater drones?

A.  I don’t know in detail, but they use techniques similar to scuba drivers and also have a piston that takes in and expels water.

Q.  Helium balloons are being used to improve communication in Africa.  Can you have drones with similar uses?

A.  The helium balloons are massive and take a special launching area.  I was focusing on a different type of balloon.

Q.  Does it take many man hours to manufacture a drone?

A.  In some instances probably yes, but flying platforms are relatively simple.