science behind how drones fly boise discovery center

On May 11th, 2017

The Science Behind Drones 

Soar to new heights: Learn the science about drones, how they fly, and how they transmit information.

Do you love drones? Then you love science. Drones are very intricate machines and understanding how to fly them means understanding the science behind them. And yes, it's awesome.

Curious kids, adults and whole families alike can learn about drones and more with the fun and activities at the Discovery Center of Idaho in Boise.

What Are Drones?

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles. But unlike the old remote control helicopters of the 20th century, they're designed to not only respond to remote commands. They can control themselves.

How do Drones Fly Themselves?

Drones have A.I., artificial intelligence software. This AI software can detect movement and "see" around it.

It then makes decisions about what to do next. In other words, they can think for themselves.

And they're only getting smarter.

How Do Drones Fly?

Physics, of course. 

Lift = 1/2 air density X Velocity^2 X Surface Area X Coefficient of Lift

This equation may seem complex to some, but keep this in mind. During flight, the drone can't change the air density or its surface area. Those are always constant.

There is only one variable in the equation the drone can control.

Can you guess what it is?

The answer is "velocity", which in the case of a drone would be the rate of speed at which the blades rotate.

The drone must adjust velocity to perform maneuvers.

The basic maneuvers for a drone are:

1. Taking off
2. Rolling from side to side
3. Pitching - lowering and raising the front of the craft
4. Yawing - turning from side to side
5. Hover - staying in one place

But how can the craft perform 5 distinct maneuvers simply by adjusting the velocity of its blades?



More, physics.

While each of these maneuvers seem distinct, all of them are controlled by how fast the blades rotate and which of the 4 or more blades rotate.

For example, to take off the blades must spin in unison to reduce the air pressure above and increase the air pressure below the craft. The pressure generated beneath the craft must exceed the drone's weight in order for it to become "lighter than air".

To roll to the left, the drone increases the speed of the blades on the right and decreases on the left.

This increases the downward force on one side causing the other side to rise.

You get the picture.

How Do Drones Transmit Information? Drones are part of the Internet of Things. They are connected through WI-FI to our mobile devices.

This allows them to transmit images and data in real time. They can be equipped with sensors, infrared and night vision.

This real time data helps farmers monitors their crops, the military scout out enemy territory, news stations keep an eye on traffic and artists get the perfect shots.

This WI FI connection also allows us to switch them over to manual control to move them in to the right position before allowing the AI software to take over.

Drones can be equipped with GPS technology that not only allows the drone owner to always know where it is but also helps the drone's AI navigate from one location to another without being manually controlled.

Why Learn About Drones?

Science needs you. Drone technology is ever-changing. We are finding new uses, improving the AI capabilities and the hardware itself every day. When you learn more about science and support the curiosity of tomorrow's inventors, you can take a major role in shaping the technologies of the future.

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