What the Gatwick airport drone chaos can teach us about the tech

Drones have caused chaos at Gatwick airport over the last few days, as it becomes evident that drone security needs to be entirely re-evaluated. But, what can the tech offer to manufacturing businesses?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

Drones could be used to make many sectors more efficient.

They can improve quality control, scan areas of land quickly and accurately, and be used in large warehouses to measure inventory.

However, incidents like the Gatwick airport havoc reveal the potential scale of the problems the small flying robots can create.

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles that are often small, remote-controlled and can cost from under £40 to several thousands of pounds. The tech is becoming increasingly sophisticated and popular across industries.

However, it is clear that regulation and security needs to be tightened and re-evaluated, to ensure this level of disruption doesn’t happen to any sector or service – around 800 flights were cancelled. But more importantly, a plane-drone collision would be disastrous. 

How could drones be used in manufacturing?

But, drones could be beneficial to manufacturing in a number of ways. As factories and entire operations become more intelligent, connected and ‘smart’, the opportunities drones could bring are vast.

Employees can become more engaged through a variety of different smart factory technologies - image courtesy of Depositphotos.
Drones could be beneficial to manufacturing in a number of ways. – image courtesy of Depositphotos.

As drones become more advanced and cheaper, it is logical for them to slot into smart factories.

They are small and easy to manoeuvre, so tasks like inspecting and repairing equipment, or mixing chemicals where it wouldn’t be safe for humans to do, make the tech a good option.

Or, if a part fails on a production line, the aerial vehicles could detect such failures beforehand and report back to control systems or the factory manager, which could prevent downtime.

They could also record inventory in warehouses or distribution centres, scan large manufacturing plants and agricultural land for quality control purposes, and transport components to difficult locations like offshore wind farms.

2018 drone case studies

Heavy lift drone development at Boeing

Earlier this year, US aerospace manufacturer Boeing revealed a prototype delivery drone able to carry heavy loads to difficult-to-reach destinations.

Boeing's CAV demonstrator can carry heavy loads. Image courtesy of Boeing.
Boeing’s CAV demonstrator can carry heavy loads – image courtesy of Boeing.

The prototype drone, called a CAV (cargo air vehicle) measures at 15 feet long, 18 feet wide and 4 feet tall, and weighs 747 pounds.

Its payload capacity is impressive, it’s designed to lift heavy loads, and is able to carry up to 500 pounds (227kg) of cargo.

The aerospace giant envisages that once it has perfected its design, the drone could be used to deliver heavy cargo not just around cities, but also to remote locations such as oil rigs.

It is also probable that such a drone could be employed in war-zones carrying equipment to soldiers in areas too dangerous for standard craft to fly.

Tiny drone could manoeuvre small spaces

From large to micro drones, Stanford University has developed an air vehicle inspired by wasps to navigate small spaces, with advanced gripping technologies that allow it to move and pull objects around.

FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight - image courtesy of Stanford News Service.
FlyCroTugs can pull objects up to 40 times their weight – image courtesy of Stanford News Service.

FlyCroTugs are miniature wasp-inspired drones that can anchor themselves to various surfaces using adhesives.

With these attachment mechanisms, the tiny drone can pull objects up to 40 times their weight, like cameras and water bottles in for example rescue situations.

According to the university, similar technology can only lift objects of about twice its own weight.

The researchers believe the FlyCroTugs’ small size means they’ll be able to navigate through small spaces effectively, making them useful for search and rescue operations, and offsite work that requires detailed visuals on hard areas for humans to reach.

Restoring the environment with drones

British-based company, BioCarbon Engineering (BCE), is using drone technology to help restore the environment.

The BCE system uses satellite and drone-collected data to reportedly determine the optimum location to plant trees in areas suffering from deforestation.

The BCE system uses satellite and drone-collected data - image courtesy of BCE.
The BCE system uses satellite and drone-collected data – image courtesy of BCE.

The planting drones then fire a biodegradable seed pod into the ground with pressurised air at each considered location at a rate of 120 seed pods per minute.

The seedpods are filled with a germinated seed, nutrients, and other vital components. These penetrate the earth, and, activated by moisture, grow into healthy trees.

Two operators equipped with 10 drones can plant 400,000 trees per day according to BCE. This means 400 teams could plant 10 billion trees each year, with the capability to scale to tens of billions of trees annually.

The automated and scalable solution plants 150 times faster and four to 10 times cheaper than current methods.

Drones can offer manufacturing businesses the ability to scan areas of land quickly and accurately, and be used in large warehouses to measure quality control and inventory. They could enable companies to manoeuvre small spaces and reach more difficult locations in order to repair equipment, detect failures on the production line and transport heavy components.

However, the tech needs to be more tightly regulated and used responsibly, as disruption to any sector on the scale of the Gatwick airport chaos cannot happen as the potential outcomes could be even more disastrous then what we have already seen.

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