Rohan Rashingkar | October 18, 2022
Have you ever seen a camera shot over the head of a city? Or a video flawlessly capturing a high-velocity race? These cinematic views are only possible because of advancements in drone technology.
A drone consists of a frame, propellers, an engine, and a flight controller board. The frame reinforces the structure of the drone, and the propellers determine the trajectory. For instance, to elevate the drone, the propeller increases its speed to produce a downward force on the air. The flight controller board works alongside the engine to manipulate the propellers. Using a predetermined program, the flight controller board transmits signals to the engine, which changes the power allocated to the propellers.
Beyond controlling the propellers, programming serves a myriad of purposes. The internal gyroscope allows drones to remain upright when it hovers, as a PID (Proportional-Integral-Derivative) program uses sensor data to calculate the exact values by which the engine’s power should change. Additionally, many modern drones implement GPS software, which dispatches their current location as well as a previous flight path. Instead of using a physical controller to fly drones, users can opt to write autonomous code that will execute a predetermined sequence of commands.
Drones can be used for a variety of real-world applications. Militaries across the world use drones for unmanned military operations such as reconnaissance. Farmers employ drones to resourcefully water and dust crops. Emergency response teams locate people with drones during disasters. In 2006, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) authorized the first-ever commercial permit for drones, and since then, drones have also become popular for personal usage.
At Vanderbilt, the administration uses drones to survey the campus landscape. Approximately every six months, Vanderbilt hires a company called Geo-Jobe to fly drones across the campus to improve existing maps and photograph the buildings and trees from a broader perspective. In addition, Vanderbilt uses drones to take the annual freshman class picture on Lower Quad Lawn. Yet, several years ago, Vanderbilt photographers climbed on hydraulic lifts instead. Through the use of drones, Vanderbilt is able to produce identical pictures with significantly less time, cost, and effort.
An introductory engineering module at Vanderbilt also concerns drones. The first-year computer science class taught by Professors James Weimer and Taylor Johnson instructs students in Python using Tello quadcopter drones. The students write code with functions from the TelloPy Python library to manipulate the flight of the drone. For example, the drone can fly forward, turn in any direction, and perform flips. The final project is to develop a program that flies a drone in special patterns including a triangle, square, circle, and cube. In this course, the drones ultimately serve as a vehicle to teach introductory programming in an applicable real-world context.
If Vanderbilt students decide to commercially operate drones on campus, they should be mindful of the restrictions. The FAA prohibits flight within a certain radius of settings such as airports and national parks since they can disturb aircraft pilots and wildlife. Tennessee contains several large airports, including the Nashville International Airport (BNA), while Vanderbilt houses a hospital with a helipad.
Even though drone technology has only recently emerged, it has already had a monumental impact on both a personal and societal level. With the seemingly ubiquitous applications of drones, only time can tell how much they will continue to shape the future.
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