Since drones have external and internal parts we can see them separately. By ‘the external parts’ we mean the hardware or how it looks outside which are depending on the drones types even though there are general parts which most drones have in common. In this section, we’ll focus on the general internal parts of drones. To have the visual picture of what this internal parts of drones look like we use the following scheme whereas we use the approach to relating and compare with the widely known manned aircraft parts as an introduction of the general external parts.
Comparison b/n UAVs and Manned aircraft External Parts
UAV components: Air crafts of the same type have mostly similar physical components. The exception mainly lies on the manned aircraft have components like the cockpit and environmental control system or life support system, which all of which not common as a drone’s body parts and generally, Military UAVs are lighter than their corresponding manned counterparts when they hold a comparable armaments/(any type load).
Obviously, civilian UAVs will generally be built from lighter materials and will use not so robust electronic control systems than their manned counters. Generally speaking, UAVs are Miniaturization of manned aircraft which means they are designed to be smaller and lighter and intern with minimum energy usage than their corresponding manned aircraft.
In remote human controlled UAVs systems, a camera and video link almost always replace the cockpit windows where as features such as transmitted digital commands, first person views(FPV) replace the physical cockpit controls parts in the corresponding manned aircraft system. They both have Autopilot software butt with varying feature sets.
The primary difference for planes is the absence of the cockpit area and its windows.
The other features like in Tailless Quad-copters are a common form factor for rotary wing UAVs while tailed mono- and bi-copters are common for manned platforms.
About Their Internal Parts
Power supply and platform : (Li-Po) lithium-polymer batteries
and (BEC: battery elimination circuitry and often harbors a micro controller unit (MCU) with Costlier switching to control system heating) is used as a center for power distribution in smaller UAVs while larger UAVs uses conventional aeroplane engines.
The advancement/Evolution of UAVs computing capability: Analog controls ==>Micro controllers==>System-on-a-chip (SOC) and Single-board computers (SBC).
System hardware for small UAVs is often either called the Flight Controller (FC), Flight Controller Board (FCB) or Autopilot. Remember here that FC (central brain of the drone) does not only mean the hardware but also it has software, much complicated mathematical algorithms and many other parts…
To visualise Fc : It is a component of hardware gyros, IMU, software and mathematical algorithms. Please read our The Drones Computing body page for more detail…
UAVs receive their position information from positions and movements of their sensors. Sensors dealing with external information like distance measurements are known as exteroceptive whereas the sensors correlating internal and external states of the UAVs body known by the name proprioceptive. Detecting of targets their separations and avoiding the collision are tasks for none cooperative sensors. The amount and quality of onboard sensors measured in terms of degree of freedom(DOF), eg 6DOF means 3-axis gyroscopes and accelerators which are a typical inertial measurement unit (IMU). 9 DOF refers to an IMU plus a compass, 10 DOF adds a barometer and 11 DOF usually adds a GPS receiver. Please read our Drone Sensors page for more detail…
UAV actuators include digital electronic speed controllers (which control the RPM of the motors) linked to motors/engines and propellers, servomotors (for planes and helicopters mostly), weapons, payload actuators, LEDs and speakers. See Actuators for more details…
Most UAVs use a radio frequency front-end to connect the antenna to:
- The analog-to-digital converter
- Flight computer that controls avionics (and that may be capable of autonomous or semi-autonomous operation).
- Remote control
- Exchange of video and other data.
- The radio communication can be either of Uplink or Downlinks. Early UAVs had only uplink. Downlinks (e.g., real-time video transmission) came later.
In military systems and high-end domestic applications, downlink may convey payload management status.
In civilian applications, most transmissions are commands from the operator to vehicle.
Downstream consists mainly video but telemetry is another kind of downstream link, transmitting status about the aircraft systems to the remote operator. UAVs use also satellite “uplink” to access satellite navigation systems.
The radio signal from the operator side can be issued from either:
- Ground control – a human operating a radio transmitter/receiver, a smartphone, a tablet, a computer, or the original meaning of a military ground control station (GCS). Recently control from wearable devices, human movement recognition, human brain waves was also demonstrated.
- Remote network system, such as satellite duplex data links for some military powers.
- Another aircraft, serving as a relay or mobile control station – military manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T).
Manned-unmanned teaming (MUM-T) operations combine the strengths of each platform (manned and unmanned) to increase situational awareness.