January 20, 2014

The Drones Are Coming

When I say the words “drone,” or “UAV,” what comes to mind? Likely you immediately think of the military’s famous (or infamous) Predator drones which have made such an impact over in the Middle East during the most recent conflict. Reaction to these weapons has been mixed. There are many who are fully in support of these unmanned areal vehicles as they are exactly that, unmanned, and thus help ensure the safety of our servicemen. On the other hand, there are many who feel that the use of such weapons turns war into a video game, dehumanizing warfare to a monstrous extent. Personally, I will admit to standing somewhere in the middle of that argument, as I do in part agree with both parties. The use of drones does help protect our servicemen, but on the other hand war should never be looked at as a game. All life is precious, and while I do not blame or judge anyone who has to fight, taking a life should never be done lightly and without cause. It should never be looked at as “scoring points” or any other sort of game. This is why I am glad to hear that there are many people out there who are looking at alternative uses for drones, showing that they can have more uses than merely being tools of war.

Imagine what possible applications an areal drone could have. They could help search-and-rescue efforts. They could penetrate the smoke curtains during a wildfire. There has even been talk of Amazon using them to deliver packages quickly and efficiently directly from the warehouses to the homes of the customers, ensuring they receive their package in mere hours. The best part of all of this is that it could all be done autonomously with only the basic human supervision needed. Currently, Kelly Cohen, an associate professor of aerospace engineering and engineering mechanics at the University of Cincinnati, and a team of students and researchers have been working on an experimental capability to capture the dynamic behavior of the UAV platform, improving their aerial abilities. One of the students, Wei Wei, used newly developed engineering software to create the dynamic model essential for the automated controls for various unmanned vehicles that have multiple rotors. This method, which focuses on UAVs with four propellers, can work on nearly any aircraft. These new designs and methods could help bring the use of drones into common practice rather than military applications, although those would likely see beneficial applications as well.

If you are looking to see an incredible demonstration of the work they have been doing, you can do so here. Sure, it may just look like a child’s toy, but that little toy will be marking the way for the future of UVA programming and software.

These latest advances in drones do not mean the coming of the Terminators or anything like that. If anything, it means the coming of an incredible new tool for first-responders in a crisis situation. Who knows, the next time you find yourself lost or needing help, it may be a robot that ends up saving your life.

Image Credit: erniedecker / Thinkstock

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