When it comes to technology excelling in the mechanical drone industry, there is literally no stopping it. Drones have evolved so much over these past few years that now they can even be controlled autonomously.
You might be wondering, what is an autonomous drone, and what purposes does it serve?
Autonomous drones are unmanned aerial electronic machines that utilize artificial intelligence and computer vision for self-flying and aerial actions through integrated circuitry and programming.
If you’re curious to know everything about autonomous drones, then you’ve come to the right place.
In this article, you are going to know about what military and civilian industries autonomous drones are being used in, how they exactly work, and how you can make your DIY autonomous drones.
I’m also going to provide you with a list of the top 5 best autonomous drones in the market. So sit back, relax, and read this article till the end if you’re looking to learn all there, to autonomous drones.
What are the Roles of Autonomous Drones?
In the past, autonomous drones and UAVs were only used for military purposes for spying, surveillance, inspection, payload carrying, and other military-grade missions.
However, in the past few years, civilian grade autonomous drones have also become incredibly popular and are being created by companies for consumers all around the world.
Drones that can fly autonomously have no bounds. Whether they’re being flown indoors, underground, in the sky, or anywhere at all, they’re smart enough and capable enough to provide you with the purpose that you need.
Let’s take a look at some roles that autonomous drones are playing in different fields and industries around the world.
Autonomous Military Drones:
They are no longer science fiction. Technology in the military is forever advancing. From weaponry to carriers, vehicles, armor, and even drones, everything is evolving and becoming more and more technologically advanced.
When it comes to autonomous drones, they’ve been around in the military for quite a while now.
This is because, at the start, these self-controlling drones were created for no other reason but military missions because they cost thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Even though now more civilian grade drones are getting popular, military-grade autonomous drones will always be technically superior and advanced.
There are many roles of autonomous drones in the military.
Customized autonomous drones are programmed, so they can be used to recon enemy sites and spy on their military bases and secret hideouts.
They usually do not require remote controls and their live feed is monitored for recon purposes.
Whether it is information or lethal weaponry, autonomous drones are used in the military for payload carriage and is a much more effective way of moving things around without having to risk human life.
Security Surveillance :
To protect bases and provide security to not only soldiers but also civilians at problematic times, autonomous drones are used to survey areas in order to keep people safe.
This is actually one of the best military uses of autonomous drones.
Role of Autonomous Drones in Film-Making:
Drone cams have completely reinvented the wheel of cinematography when it comes to film-making.
From having to use peculiar and expensive shooting materials like industrial cameras and helicopters and such for getting aerial shots to easily utilize an autonomous drone cam for cinematic videography purposes, film-making has truly come a long way.
Autonomous drones now offer 4k recording capability and high-quality multi-camera setups which can be used by directors and producers of AAA films in mega-film industries for taking dynamic aerial shots of movie scenes.
They just not only shoot scenes of stationary objects but even catch intense and fast-paced action sequences involving high-speed car chases or other moving objects without breaking a sweat.
The big-budget films that you see in Hollywood and other film-industries, in order to get panned and zoomed motion shots of buildings, skyscrapers, action scenes, and general aesthetic cinematography, all use autonomous drones that are programmed to follow a particular scene or a person.
There are truly no limits to aerial cinematography when it comes to the use and importance of autonomous drones in the film-making industry.
You’re going to be able to get as amazing shots as your mind is creative.
Role of Autonomous Drones in Agriculture:
In my opinion, as a drone loving enthusiast, I think the most important and beneficial role of autonomous drones is in the agriculture industry.
Autonomous drones are more recently optimized and programmed to tend and cultivate crops in order to utilize technology for the betterment of humankind.
If you’re looking to invest in a hands-free agricultural business, well, you need to know about this.
You might be wondering, how do autonomous drones help in the agricultural field? Well, autonomous drones are being designed for multiple special agriculture-related purposes, a few of which I’ve listed below.
Cultivation of Plants:
Drones that are specialized and programmed to witness signs of plant and crop growth, in order to provide necessary amounts of fertilizer which is being carried by these autonomous drones.
The crops which have grown and require nutrients will be monitored through the live feed and the drones will provide an appropriate amount of fertilizer to these plants.
Dealing with Pests and Insects:
Obviously, every agricultural farm comes with insects and pests invading the crops. How do autonomous drones deal with them? Through their high-quality sensors.
The drones sense the presence of insects and pests by monitoring the crops hovering over them and then automatically spraying enough amounts of insecticides and pesticides wherever they might be required.
So, in comparison to human labor, this is much more efficient dealing with crop-eating insects I’d say. So, you’re definitely getting the value for your investment in this regard.
Harvesting procedures involving drones with autonomous control is much more common than the other two roles that I talked about. In fact, there are many modern farms that are using autonomous drones for this purpose.
The drones use multi spectral imaging in order to ensure the growth of the particular crop and if it has reached its peak, whichever pulling, clamping, or harvesting mechanism is being used, they will harvest the crops.
Actually taking a look at this, it truly is a great achievement in terms of technology. And it could prove as a very great investment opportunity if you’re looking to pursue agriculture with a touch of modernity and technology.
These flying machines are now starting to be used in other fields as well including product deliveries, personal leisure, and entertainment. It just shows how great autonomous drone technology truly is.
How Do Autonomous Drones Work?
The million-dollar question, how do autonomous drones work? Well, let’s start off simple. Autonomous drones utilize computer vision in order to make movement decisions and fly without requiring a pilot.
Autonomous drones capture image and video signals from around them through high-quality image sensors, convert them to digital signals using computer vision and create mappings using GPS.
Computer vision is the method that computer used to convert imagery and videos into digital signals to understand their surroundings and react to them as they’re programmed.
However, computer vision is just the baseline. If you’re curious as to how modern autonomous drones have become so reliable and how they’re able to fly through so many obstacles and obstructions without any problems at high speeds, there’s something else you need to know.
I’ve got two words for you. Artificial Intelligence.
The way of utilizing methods and algorithms of artificial intelligence, modern consumer-grade, and industry-grade autonomous drones can differentiate between larger and smaller obstacles.
They create alternative paths of movement and continue moving and performing tasks that they’re designed for.
This is basically how autonomous drones work without requiring any pilot or remote control. It’s incredibly fascinating and I believe the autonomy of drones will keep increasing and getting better over time.
How to Make Your Own (DIY) Autonomous Drone?
Although we’ve got a lot of great autonomous drone options for you in this article, if you’re the creative type and you’ve got a modest budget, here is a step-by-step guide you can use to make your own DIY autonomous drone.
Step 1: Gathering Parts:
The first step is to gather all the necessary components so that you can move forward with your build. Here are the major parts and tools that you’re going to require in order to make a high-quality DIY autonomous drone.
·The frame of the drone with quad-propellors which will provide the base of the drone.
·The motors are also important. They’re what will drive the rotors in order to fly the drone.
·The battery will be responsible for powering the motors.
·The electronic speed controller will deal with the speed settings of the drone.
·Circuit board which you’ll provide the coding to, in order to make the drone autonomous.
The RC controller is going to be useful for setting paths and calibrating the drone.
Step 2: Assembly
In this step, you’re going to perform all the physical connections of the drone. Once you’ve gathered all the required parts and components, it is time to assemble the drone.
Using your premade drone frame and a soldering iron, you’re going to make all the necessary connections and ensure that all the battery, propeller, motor, and circuitry wiring is appropriate.
The electronic speed controller will be dealt with by connecting Signal Pin ESC 1 to D3, Signal Pin ESC 3 to D9, Signal Pin ESC 2 to D10, and Signal Pin ESC 4 to D11.
After that, the Bluetooth connection needs to be established as well. After assembling the base of the drone, you’re going to tape and solder the wires to the frame in order to minimize the risk of wires getting in touch with the propellers and causing problems during flight.
Step 3: Coding:
The most important part of the process is the coding. You are going to use any open-source coding platform like PX4 or MultiWii and you’re going to perform accurate configuration.
Thus, by providing the circuit details and making necessary autonomy functions in order to allow the drone to become autonomous, you’re going to perform all the coding and install it into the circuit you’re using on the frame.
Then by using the created program or a template from the internet, you are going to program the RC controller in accordance with the drone circuit.
Step 4: Flying:
Now that you’re done with both the hardware and software creation and integration, it is time for flying your brand-new DIY autonomous flight drone.
You’re going to need to calibrate the drone appropriately using the RC controller and the appropriate drone settings. Once you’re done with the calibration, your DIY drone is ready to fly.
Every flight is going to be butter-smooth once the first one is out of the way. You’ll have a fully functioning drone for a fraction of the price, but the labor would be pretty intensive as well.
There is a 4-part YouTube series about DIY Indoor Autonomous Drones by SimpleKernel. Have a look.
Top 5 Best Autonomous Drones
Autonomous drones are being developed and mass-produced by many multi-national aerial vehicle manufacturing companies around the world for the average consumer for decent prices.
In this list of the best autonomous drones, I’ve chosen the most amazing, feature-full, stylish, and functional drones which offer the most bang for the buck, so that you can experience autonomous drones and get one for yourself as well.
1. SKYDIO 2 Drone: My Choice
When it comes to autonomous drones, SKYDIO 2 is a true masterpiece. It is my personal choice on this list.
Skydio 2 is definitely one of the best drones in the market and you should definitely keep it at the top of your priority list.
It is not only fast, long-ranged, and incredibly designed but it is also super-quiet and amazingly dynamic when it comes to capturing beautiful shots with a 3-axis gimbal and multiple recording modes.
If you’re looking for maximum control, this autonomous drone also allows remote control in three different ways. You can use the SKYDIO Beacon, mobile applications, and customized remote control.
· Flight Range – The SKYDIO 2 uses the most advanced AI auto-piloting system with the NVIDIA Tegra TX2 featuring 256 GPU cores. If you want to control it manually, you’re going to get an amazing flight range of 3.5kms.
· Flight Time – For the best drone flying and videography experience, SKYDIO 2 comes with a long-lasting battery that allows a flight time of about 23 minutes.
· Camera Quality – The camera records images and videos at 45 megapixels at 4K 60fps HDR. This is incredibly amazing if you’re looking for high-quality videography.
· Drone Speed – With a 50% lower movement sound than the SKYDIO 1, this drone moves at an autonomous speed of 36MPH which is incredible for an AI drone.
2. DJI Phantom 4 Pro Drone
The DJI Phantom 4 was already a great autonomous drone, however, the Phantom 4 Pro, is just an amazing upgrade to it. It is one of the best photography drones on the market and you should definitely keep an eye out for it.
When it comes to price to value, it is expensive but for industrial cinematic videography, it is great and much better than many autonomous drones which have much lesser to offer.
· Flight Range – It is exceptional when it comes to flight range. The Phantom 4 Pro by DJI can fly to distances of around 7 kilometers for excellent far away shots and videography.
· Flight Time – For long-lasting videography and drone autonomy, this drone comes equipped with a flight time of 30 minutes which is incredible for a drone of this price.
· Camera Quality – The DJI Phantom 4 Pro comes with a 1” 20 MP camera sensor and it records at 4K 60fps which is perfect whether you want it to autonomously follow you or record videos.
· Drone Speed – The drone comes with 4db noise reduction and it can reach up to speeds of around 30MPH when you’re looking for motion pictures and recording moving visuals.
3. Yuneec Typhoon 4K Drone:
Yuneec has always been a great staple when it comes to aerial electronics. Keeping their reputation, the Typhoon Q500 4K is also an amazing autonomous drone if you’re looking for it.
It comes with an amazing gimbal that can be maneuvered greatly to adapt to dynamic shots with the great camera it comes with.
The remote ST10+ comes with a beautiful design along with a touch-screen display which is perfect for remote controlling and features a lot of different flight options.
· Flight Range – The flight range of this machine is good for close videography. It comes with a flight range of 400m or 1300ft which is good for the price.
· Flight Time – It comes with a 5400mAh LiPo battery that allows the drone to move in the air for as long as 25 minutes of high-quality video and image capturing.
· Camera Quality – It comes with an amazing 12MP camera that can record at 1080P with as much as 120fps and 4K with 24fps for picture-perfect shots.
· Drone Speed – The drone can reach up to a speed of 60mph which is amazing if you’re looking for moving object videography.
4. DJI INSPIRE 2:
The INSPIRE 2 by DJI is a great budget autonomous videography drone. It allows stunning shots and multiple recording modes for videography enthusiasts who want amazing aerial views.
This drone is amazing when it comes to autonomy. There are different flying modes which this particular drone comes with. Along with that, it also can be controlled by an extremely stylish and great remote control.
If you want a budget camera drone, then the DJI INSPIRE 2 is going to be one of the best options.
· Flight Range – With an exceptional 5.4ghz connection, this drone can be flown at distances ranging up to 4.3 miles.
· Time – The drone is equipped with a powerful battery which allows 23 minutes of flight time with the X7 camera and 27 minutes with the X4S camera.
· Camera Quality – The incredible camera of the INSPIRE 2 records at 6K RAW @ 4.44Gbps and comes with 5.2K Apple ProRes Video support which is amazing.
· Drone Speed – The drone can reach speeds of around 59MPH for moving objects and can be used at lower speeds as well in order to make the AI drone follow you.
5. 3DR Solo Drone
The most budget-friendly autonomous drone option on this list is the 3DR Solo drone. If you’re looking for price to value and many exciting features, then the 3DR solo is definitely something that is going to interest you.
It has gimbal support which allows stunning dynamic aerial shots and comes with a lasting battery which makes it on par with the more high-end expensive drones.
· Flight Range – With a moderate range of 2 miles, the 3DR Solo is a great option if you’re looking for far-away shots and general fun with a great autonomous drone.
· Flight Time – The flight time of this drone is pretty decent as well. In fact, it can stay in the air and take stunning shots for as long as 20-22 minutes of time.
· Camera Quality – The camera on this drone can record HD videos and take dynamic shots with an optional gimbal addition for a generous price increase.
· Drone Speed – With a speed of around 55MPH, this drone can go fast if you want it to record moving visuals or take beautiful pictures of objects in motion.
Autonomous drones are the future of videography and surveillance. Even now drones are utilizing such strong AI that they’re able to make obstacle avoidance decisions, understand and follow objects, and record amazing visuals with high-quality cameras and sensors.
In the future, multiple day-to-day fields are going to employ the use of autonomous drones and be able to work without human labor. This is to be accomplished thanks to better AI, better coding, and drone design. So, be ready to adapt to the incredible pieces of technology that are autonomous drones.