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Bench Talk for Design Engineers

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Bench Talk for Design Engineers | The Official Blog of Mouser Electronics

Drones of a Feather Flock Together Rudy Ramos

One of the hottest gifts this past holiday season were consumer DRONES. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) projected one million of these devices were under Christmas trees this past December. The word Drone is one of the oldest official designations for “remotely controlled aircraft” in the American military lexicon dating back to 1935. “Drone” was adopted to refer to these aircraft as in homage to the queen in a bee hive, and became the official US Navy designation for targets for many decades.


Figure 1: Military Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV)


New Drone Regulation

Drones quickly let one see their surroundings from different angles and from a distance, a feat previously only reserved for birds. Drones can bring out the “inner kid” in even the most jaded individual but they can also land people in a lot of trouble. Most of the trouble revolves around the legal issues regarding their use involving privacy, security, airspace encroachment and downright nuisance issues. To help address drone legal issues, the FAA has introduced new regulations. To start, the FAA now requires that if you want to fly one of these drones you’ll have to register first.


 Figure 2: FAA rules now require you to register you Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) effective December 21,2015


Here is what you need to know:

1. Registration began on December 21, 2015. The fee is $5 but the FAA is waiving it for the first 30 days, which means you will have until almost the end of January before you have to pay.

2. Failure to register your drone could result in criminal penalties up to $250,000 and three years in prison.

3. If you have operated an Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) prior to December 21, then you have until February 19, 2016 to register. If you get one after the 21st, you must register before your first flight.

4. This registration applies to UAS weighing more than 0.55 pounds (250g) and less than 55 pounds (~ 25kg).

5. You must provide your name, home address, and e-mail address. Upon registration, you will be provided a unique identification number, which must clearly be marked on the aircraft. Fortunately, you only have to register once and the ID number will apply to all your aircraft.

6. Registration is valid for three years and you must be at least 13 years old.

7. Most importantly, don't fly the drone above 400 feet (approx. 122 meters or the height of a 30 to 40 story building), never let it out of your sight, and don't fly it near airports or populated areas like stadiums.

Drone Selection and Cost

Consumer drone selection and cost is wide and varied, with some drones less than $25 USD while others can set you back a few thousand dollars. Of course, price translates to features and capabilities.

Beginners can get simple, lightweight Microdrones (toy drones) that typically cost less than $25 USD. This category of drone can provide approximately 8–10 minutes of flight time between recharges, and are relatively easy to master.

For the intermediate user who is looking for options like onboard camera/video, image stabilization, or self-hovering capabilities, the options are many. A drone in this category is still relatively easy to operate and will probably set the buyer back $250–800 USD. These drones are still relatively small and typically weigh less than a pound. Advantages to mid-tier drones include the ability to remain airborne for 20–25 minutes. Another advantage lies in their durability, resulting from better materials and fewer moving parts. In most cases, the only movement is in the propellers. Other advantages to these drones is the speed and range with which they can operate. Drone makers quote top speeds of 60 km/h and a 2km range using optional external flight controllers. However, realistically speaking, most can expect to only be able to pilot their drones at half those specs.   

Advanced consumer-operated drones are intended for the semi-pro user, and cost $1,000 USD and up. However, they include features such as auto-takeoff, auto-landing and auto-return functions; plus flight simulators for practicing that can be well worth the price. In short, all of the features that the least experienced drone user would most benefit from. Consider these extra “must have features” as added protection to your drone investment. After all, most buyers are not trained drone pilots and can expect to crash or possibly lose their drone at some point. Having the auto-return function can really save your day. Other upgrades to these pricier drones can include GPS that is augmented with GLONASS, the Russian equivalent of GPS, to help ensure the drone remains in place and holds its position. Other upgrades include better cameras and optics capable of 4k resolution and livestream video.

Regardless of price, one thing all drones share is the ability to engage the user and deliver pure fun.


Figure 3: Drones to the rescue! They won't replace lifeguards but they can assist them getting to the swimmer in trouble quicker.


Drone, RPA, UAV or UAS?

The word Drone is really a catchall general term for any manufactured “robot” remotely controlled or preprogramed that includes those for water, land or air use. In reality most “drones” go by far more precise name classification than “drones”. For instance; remote-piloted aircraft (RPAs). RPAs are remote control drones similar to a helicopter with one or more than one set of rotor blades. RPAs are currently being used in the military and commercial arenas. There are Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). These are preprogramed drones that do a specific task on a specific flight path. Mostly used by the military, these UAV drones can be used as attack, delivery, or reconnaissance drones. Then there are Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), these types of drones are what is currently flooding the consumer market and what the FAA is currently targeting,  taking an incremental regulation approach for their safe integration into our airspace. 

Figure 4: Although currently not allowed by the FAA, pizza, or any other kind of goods deliver via drones might not be far away.

Creative Uses for Drones:

·    Military applications

·    Civil applications – surveying, road and bridge inspection

·     Law Enforcement – surveillance, crowd control, monitoring

·     Firefighting – fighting fires, inspections

·     Science - marine and land conservation efforts, cave exploration

·     Commercial - cartography

·     Marketing – video and photography for sport events, real estate, corporate events

·     Home Building – property surveying, construction progress

·     Insurance – building and home roof inspection

·     Maintenance – solar and wind turbine inspection

·     Farming – crop and farm animal monitoring and inspection

·     Photography – weddings, commercials, marketing

·     Delivery service – pizza, small items

·     Recreational – hobbyist and enthusiasts, clubs, competition, etc.

·     Personal use – video making and photography, for fun

Final Thoughts

With the 2016 Consumer Electrics Show (CES) in Las Vegas on now, the latest consumer drones will prominently share center stage with other newfangled electronic gadgets. The belief is that the consumer drone market will continue to grow and consumer drones will only get smarter and more ubiquitous. It is not hard to visualize future drone technology fusing with existing technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), the Smart Home or Connected Living. Imagine a home security system capable of deploying a drone when an alarm is triggered. Video and images from these drones could help law enforcement better identify the burglars by taking snapshots of the ongoing robbery or the getaway vehicle. No more stationary cameras that often miss capturing vital data because of mounting location. Similar drones could help provide an initial assessment of a house fire to the local fire department or first responders. With the drone market poised for potential growth in the coming years, expect drone technology to get smarter and new applications to emerge. The present affinity for drones is not just that they are new, but that drones are just fun to fly.



Aaron Mehta. (2013, 05 14). History Tuesday: The Origin of the term Drone. Retrieved from Intercepts Web site: https://intercepts.defensenews.com/2013/05/the-origin-of-drone-and-why-it-should-be-ok-to-use/

Clay Dillow. (2015, 07 17). As commercial drone use soars, 'drone services' take flight. Retrieved from Fourtune Web site: https://fortune.com/2015/07/17/commercial-drone-service/

How-To Geek Web site. (15, 04 7). Retrieved from What You Need to Know Before Flying a Drone (To Stay Out of Trouble): https://www.howtogeek.com/213159/what-you-need-to-know-before-flying-a-drone/

Jonathan Berr. (2015, 09 30). Moneywatch Web site. Retrieved from Drone for the holidays? That's raising concerns: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/drone-for-the-holidays-thats-raising-concerns/

Unmanned Aircraft Systems. (2016, 01 5). Retrieved from Federal Aviation Administration Web site: https://www.faa.gov/uas/


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Rudy is the Project Manager for the Technical Content Marketing team at Mouser Electronics, accountable for the timely delivery of the Application and Technology sites from concept to completion. He has 30 years of experience working with electromechanical systems, manufacturing processes, military hardware, and managing domestic and international technical projects. He holds an MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management with a concentration in Project Management. Prior to Mouser, he worked for National Semiconductor and Texas Instruments. Rudy may be reached at rudy.ramos@mouser.com.

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