How the Security Industry Can Take Advantage of Drone Payloads
Drones have more to offer than delivering Amazon packages. Discover all the payload applications waiting to be taken advantage of.
Over the last few months, it feels as though everything and everyone has jumped into the drone industry. The industry is exploding, and the uses for UAV’s now truly range from A to Z – Agriculture to Zoology.
New industry events pop up nearly every month, busy and bustling with young entrepreneurs wheeling and dealing amongst each other to be the next “Google” of drones.
The innovativeness inspires many of us, but with great diversity often comes confusion and the overwhelming inability to choose how to best solve the problem at hand.
Trust me, even experts in the field can’t run at the pace of new UAV’s hitting the market. Not to fear, below is a breakdown of what really matters to help provide you with a top-level understanding.
Firstly, it’s important to remember that a drone is merely the vehicle; a way to transport what provides the actual value – the payload (hence the name).
These payloads can be broadly broken down into a few categories:
- Optical Payloads (Electro-optical/Infrared (EO/IR), Lasers, LIDAR, etc.)
- Radio Frequency (RF) Payloads (Signal Intelligence (SIGINT), RADAR, etc.)
- For lack of a better name, physical payloads (transportations of a variety of goods, from your recent Amazon order to spray liquids to even human beings)
The majority of companies in the payload space focus on optical payloads (think photographs and videos); however, physical transportation payloads are gaining popularity. While RF payloads are still mostly found in military applications, these are slowly proving to offer diverse capabilities and making a unique mark in the industry as well.
With that in mind, here is a deeper look in how the security industry can take advantage of each payload:
Most everyone is aware that drones can take incredible aerial photographs and videos; Hollywood especially has adopted drones for this reason. The majority of the market today utilizes UAV’s for aerial still shots and videos.
In relation to the security sector, having the ability to quickly assess a large area from a bird’s eye view is instrumental; however, traditional photographs only capture the tip of the iceberg.
Employing a more advanced optical payload with the ability to shift to higher or lower frequencies would uncover a large range of additional and high-value information.
Take Infrared, for example; far-infrared is used in thermal imaging (aka night vision). Yet if you incorporated near-infrared, under the same principles you could gather a slew of information on the ground below, like type of foliage, gases present, material types and much more.
Typically used to compile an extremely accurate 3D representation of the ground, LIDAR payloads help to successfully model structures, penetrate foliage to see what’s underneath, etc.
Electric or cell service providers would find LIDAR drones extremely useful when surveying land for new wiring. Yet you can see that when combined with infrared capabilities and other optical solutions, your drone would provide access to never before seen ground perspectives. It’s all in the way you build your payload sensor.
There are certainly many other sensors that might prove very effective, markedly for the security industry, and should not be overlooked due to limited notoriety in the drone industry.
Particularly RF-type sensors-Signal Intelligence and Radar Imagery has been part of the U.S. Military’s repertoire for decades, relying on RF technology to either intercept a wide variety of communications, or in the case of RADAR, provide a highly accurate image of the ground, and/or detect objects from great distances.
Incredibly diverse, signal intelligence focuses on the collection, processing, classification and analysis of radio frequency signals.
In modern English, a drone with a signal intelligence sensor will be able to tell you how many radios are being used in the area, where they are located (Electronic Intelligence), and in some top-secret instances, what it being said (Communication Intelligence).
While the surreptitious collection of signals is usually the first thing that comes to mind, there are many other and more positive uses that could be implemented by security or first responders and help save lives.
Geolocation of signals can be extremely important, especially in time-critical situations like relief efforts during natural disasters-access to Electronic Intelligence would help rescuers locate a stranded victim quicker.
UAV’s equipped with SIGINT payloads could mean life or death, and many of our modern technologies transmit data without us realizing it.
Moral of the story, don’t ever leave the house without your cell phone, it could end up saving your life! (Kidding, kind of.)
SIGINT is our specialty at VStar because while signal intelligence is less widely available on the market, the benefits of drones with SIGINT payloads is incredibly diverse.
Radar is another technology that I believe will quickly gain popularity in the near future. With the ability to see through clouds, rain, and many other factors that bring traditional optical sensors to a grinding halt, radar provides imagery that’s also critical in disaster scenarios.
In addition, Coherent Chance detection (CCD) allows you to detect even the minutest changes, which could be extremely supportive to the security industry in detecting changes like stolen goods from a storeroom or inventory over a period of time.
In the end, these tools will hopefully enable faster, better, and more accurate responses to a variety of operations that plain optics fail to provide.
Last but not least, physical payloads; these are the delivered packages, or even goods like medicine and water.
Logistics in coordinating the loading and delivery of physical objects has and will always be a huge undertaking, so employing drones for the delivery of much-needed supplies will prove industry altering.
Already, the military is experimenting with UAV’s to deliver supplies to cut-off troops in the field, which can easily prove useful in a civilian application, such as in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina.
Imagine how differently events would have transpired if FEMA had an easy way to distribute fresh water and communication equipment to hard-hit areas.
In a few years, physical payload capabilities may even advance to ambulance drones that could provide faster critical transportation of the injured to the nearest hospital.
While these broad categories don’t do the payload varieties justice, they hopefully provide guidance and help shine a light on the incredible diversity of drones.
As for where to go from here – I am certain we will see more of these under utilized payload technologies become more mainstream in the coming year. And just as with optical systems, we’ll see uses for SIGINT and radar that we can’t even imagine yet.
If 2016 was the “Year of the Drone,” 2017 just might possibly become the year of the payloads.
Andy Von Stauffenberg is the CEO of VStar Systems.
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