You have heard about Internet of Things (IoTs), the common name given to all the various connected sensors and machines. However, most of these ‘Things’ stay in one place for most of the time; constantly observing their environment and recording data, which is later processed into meaningful information for the end user. They typically consist of:
- A sensor node ‘stationary’ e.g. on a roadside or a bridge that gathers input
- A connection (via the internet) between the node and data collection center
- A centralized data collection infrastructure that is commonly based in the cloud.
In the world of IoTs, unmanned aerial vehicle (a.k.a drones) are finding their ways into IoT implementations. Drones are already beginning to efficiently replace the connected sensors at stationery with one device having the following features:
- Ease to deploy
- Flexible payloads
- Measuring anything, anywhere
Ease to Deploy: If a drone is a connected (via the internet) device, you can control from your smartphone in a city X and control a drone in city Y. Drone deploy does it by marrying a simple 4G telemetry device to a drone’s avionics. This enables real-time data transmission, processing, and sharing. With this kind of setup, one can plan missions (launch, point A, then point B and to point C, etc.) in a browser. Upload them to a drone anywhere, press start, and it goes.
Flexible Payload: So one of things users want is the ability to mount different sensors such as thermal imaging or multi-spectral cameras, sniffers and microphones to the drones. PrecisionHawk (multi-rotor and fixed wing drone) figured out early on how to offer an array of sensors that are swappable and just snap into place. The cool thing about the aircraft is that the body itself is made of circuit boards and processors.
Reprogrammable: So, not only you can deploy anywhere, but they are re-programmable while on a mission. Let’s say you wanted to create a 3D map for a construction site project and you programmed it to run its mission but
in the middle you noticed something wrong then you can divert the drone, perform another operation then resume and complete its mission.
Measuring anything, anywhere: Every day, you can read about measurement sensors are getting smaller and lighter. Such is the case with LiDAR, which allows you to capture minute details and measurements. Stationary is the most accurate but lacks the significance of an aerial perspective. You can get good from aircraft but not as good as from drone. With a drone one can get close to the objects.
Utilities: Transmission and distribution (T & D) operators and utilities across the globe are beginning to look toward drones to reduce costs, improve safety, increase reliability and decrease response times across their systems. T&D workers have traditionally performed line inspections and maintenance, storm damage assessments, and vegetation management using line crews, helicopters and third-party inspection services companies. Drones present an alternative to the high-cost and dangerous work done by T&D operators, while having the potential to offer many additional benefits. The value proposition for T&D utilities to complete at least a portion of their inspections, maintenance and damage assessments via drones and robotics is strong.
Agriculture: Precision Agriculture is a new concept in crop management strategy that utilizes information technology with the aim of improving production and quality while decreasing production costs. Precision drones provides a comprehensive list of uses for drones to help farmers quickly increases their return on investment by providing integrated geographic information by providing integrated geographic information system mapping, crop health imaging and low-cost aerial camera platform. When compared with satellite imagery, using drones is a much cheaper option that provides higher resolution images.
Construction site: The industrial IoT is developing quickly on construction sites around the world. Construction sites present IoT with a number of fixable problems, including dangerous working conditions and lost items or machinery. Here is a list of ways drones can enhance construction site operations, surveying, showing clients the progress, monitoring job sites and inspecting structures.
Challenges for Internet of Drones
Autonomy: Device autonomy relates to the control of the drones and can be used to specify whether a drone can fly autonomously or needs remote controlled navigation by a (human) pilot. It is important to note that to ensure safety, drones are obligated by law to stay in RC range for human intervention in case of an emergency. Drones can fly autonomously following pre-computed or adaptive waypoints. These waypoints can be decided by a central processing entity, like a base station, and then sent over a communication link to the drone. The drone can also decide its path on-the-fly by using the information collected from the environment (terrain, obstacles, as well as presence of other drones) via on-board sensors.
3D Nature: The 3D nature of the network demands the support of various types of links. The links in an aerial network can be either air-air (A2A), air-ground (A2G), or ground-air (G2A). These links have been analyzed against each other as well as against ground-ground (G2G) links. It has been stated that these links have to be modeled differently due to their distinct channel characteristics, which affects the supportable network related QoS, and hence the sustainable traffic on each type of link. The wireless channel is also affected by elements in the 3D space, which corresponds to the terrain over which the drone is flying, along with the number of obstacles in the space. The high mobility of the devices in 3D space is also important to consider, since antenna orientation, and hence link quality fluctuates widely with mobility.
Mobility: In many application scenarios, the aerial devices can facilitate time efficiency due to their high mobility. Due to this high mobility, however, the terrain over which the drones are flying is expected to change very frequently. Not only do terrain-induced blind spots affect the wireless channel, but they may also introduce frequent topology changes amongst multiple devices that require connectivity (drones, ground clients, and base stations). High mobility is also a characteristic of VANET, however, VANET mobility models follow restricted routes in 2D, for example, highways and roads, whereas aerial devices are characterized by the demand for mobility in 3D space. Thus, not only may the terrain over which the drones are flying change frequently, but also the altitude of flight may have to be varied to avoid obstacles and collisions.
Multi-drone Network: Early uses of drone were characterized by use of a single large drone for a task. In these systems the drone based communication network, therefore, consisted of just one aerial node and one or more ground nodes. Today most public and civil applications can be carried out more efficiently with multi drone systems. In a multi-drone system, the drones are smaller and less expensive and work in a coordinated manner. In most multi-drone systems, the communication network, proving communication among drones and between the drones and the ground nodes, becomes an important constituent. These drones can be configured to provide services cooperatively and extend the network coverage by acting as relays. The degree of mobility of drones depends on the application. For instance, in providing communication over an earthquake struck area the drones would hover over the area of operation and the links would be slow dynamic. As opposed to this, applications like agriculture or forest surveillance require the drones to move across a large area and links frequently break and reestablish. The dynamic nature of the network configuration and links is apparent from the fact that the drones may go out of service periodically due to malfunction or battery drainage. This is true also for drones that need to hover over an area for relatively long periods. New drones have to be launched to take their places. Sometimes some of the drones may be taken out of service to conserve power for a more appropriate time. It would, therefore, be a requirement that in all such cases the links should automatically reconfigure themselves.