Quadrocopters, or quad rotor helicopters as they are also known, are flying craft that are lifted and controlled by four propellers. The first manned quadrocopters were created in the late 1920s and 1930s. They were designed to be an alternative to the helicopter, but there were a number of performance issues with limited control and poor stability that led to them being dismissed. Recently, quadrocopters have been given a second lease of life as they have been used to drive UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles).
What is a UAV?
A UAV or drone is a machine that can be flown remotely by a pilot or autonomously by a computer. As the name implies they are unmanned, meaning they carry no human cargo either as pilot, observer, or engineer.
Some UAVs are small, light and maneuverable and capable of doing risky jobs that may be unsafe for pilots in manned aircraft to carry out. Some are designed to operate indoors or in confined areas e.g. tunnels, sewers etc.
What are the benefits of using quadrocopters as UAVs?
Quadrocopters are very agile and easy to fix flying machines; they make perfect UAVs.
Quadrocopters, unlike traditional helicopters, only have one moving part – the rotor. The rest of the machine is static and does not move. As such, quadrocopters are much more simplistic in design than other flying aircraft and are much easier to maintain.
Most small scale quadrocopters have been also designed with enclosures that protect the rotors in case of contact, making them more rugged than other UAVs. This allows them to traverse environments with tough surroundings that may damage other craft.
Quadrocopters also use smaller fans than helicopters. These fans operate at lower speeds and cause less damage when they make contact. This means that quadrocopters are safer than other flying aircrafts for use in close quarter situations.
How do quadrocopters work?
Quadrocopters use four fans, or propellers, to push the aircraft up. By altering the speeds of the individual propellers, pitch, roll and yaw can be changed, allowing the quadrocopter to easily maneuver in the air. The propellers are placed into a configuration of two pairs; one pair spins clockwise, while the other spins counter clockwise.
To move forwards, the propeller at the front is slowed down, causing the nose of the quadrocopter to fall, thus pushing the craft forwards. Likewise, causing the back propeller to slow would cause the craft to move backwards.
To turn, both the front and back propellers are slowed, which causes the craft to turn clockwise. Turning off the left and right propellers would cause the craft to turn anti clockwise.
To rise vertically, all four propellers would be operating at equal speed.
What are quadrocopter UAVs used for?
Traditionally, UAVs have been used by the military for a number of uses, including reconnaissance and providing long range imagery.
As technology has improved and become more affordable, UAVs are now being used in increasing numbers for ‘civilian’ operations. Firefighters are using UAVs to put out blazing fires while oil prospectors are using them to scan areas of land for oil. Police have also started to use UAVs to carry out surveillance with sensors capable of scanning car license plates and carrying out facial recognition.
Due to their simple design and relative easy of construction, hobbyist craft makers have started to build cheap and affordable UAVs for mass consumption. Inexpensive drones with cameras attached are now available, often with smartphone apps that allow the unit to be controlled by an iOS or Android device.
The future of quadrocopters
As research is carried out and the technology matures quadrocopters will continue to become smaller, more maneuverable and cheaper to build. The potential uses for quadrocopter UAVs are endless. UAVs capable of constructing buildings and repairing machinery are already in the design phases while UAVs capable of playing tennis and ping pong are already a reality.
The future looks bright for quadrocopters. They have the potential to greatly change mankind for the better; hopefully they live up that potential.