Commercial Drones Lift Off with Lightweight Interconnects
Small, lightweight interconnects have given a new generation of unmanned aerial vehicles flight instructions for use in delivery, surveying, agriculture, and other industries.
Look up, it’s a commercial drone delivering your neighbor’s new toothbrush. Or at least, that’s the dream. The use of commercial drones for delivery has great potential to reduce the costs, traffic, and environmental impact of online ordering; right now, that toothbrush still needs to be delivered by a human using petroleum resources, at a cost that exceeds the item’s value. However, Prime Air, Amazon’s drone delivery service, has not been cleared for takeoff, nor has Walmart’s partnership with DroneUp. Delivery technology needs refinement and regulatory issues remain, although bipartisan legislation, Increasing Competitiveness for American Drones Act of 2023, could reduce some barriers.
In the meantime, nimble and rugged drones are already making an impact in many other industries. Commercial drones or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are going where people cannot, vastly scaling down equipment and labor costs, and opening new possibilities. The technology for many UAV applications is here now, thanks to a new wave of small, lightweight interconnects that has boosted UAV power and range. While we wait for our air dropped toothbrush, these devices are already doing important work in other industries.
Agriculture Drones equipped with specialized sensors and imaging technology are in widespread use in global farming operations. They provide valuable data and insights on forest and crop health, pest infestation, and irrigation. This data enables farmers to use fertilizers and pesticides more precisely, minimizing waste, reducing environmental impact, and maximizing yields.
Smiths Interconnect collaborated with a manufacturer of commercial robotic drones & drone-based solutions that was struggling to find a qualified high-power connector for the power supply module in a new UAV to be used for precision spraying of pesticides for agriculture and livestock. “The drones operate in multiple modes and are used for crop health, precision farming, and yield monitoring, data from which is processed using AI algorithm,” said Joydip Sanyal, Product Line Manager at Smiths Interconnect. “In this case, the drones’ final use is to spray a range of agrochemical, fertilizers, and specialty nutrients on fields. The drones operate in tough environmental conditions with heat, rain, sudden collision with crops or plants, all of which requires its design to be robust for reliable performance”.
The connectivity solution Smiths Interconnect was asked to provide was the main connector, which connects the drone with its battery for power supply. The required performance was to withstand at least 25 minutes of flight time and cover up to six acres per battery charge with AI-assisted navigation. Smiths Interconnect was able to provide a modular connector with a special float mount, rack & panel, UL-qualified modular solution with mixed signal and power contacts. This resulted in the development of a dependable and satisfactory connector for the new drone battery pack. The customer gained an important competitive advantage through a reliable and durable interconnect solution that can guarantee stability and maximum power charge throughout the spraying time.
Infrastructure inspection. Inspecting large structures such as bridges, power lines, and oil rigs is time-consuming, expensive, and risky for workers. Drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and sensors can assess the condition of infrastructure from the air, providing real-time data and images to inspectors. Drones can also survey remote land for a variety of development or mapping purposes.
Teledyne Reynolds offers custom interconnect solutions to support high voltage and mixed signal packages for Avionics and Control Systems. “Our customers working in the drone space need smaller form factor connectors with mixed signal packages: RF, high voltage, power, and high-speed signals. We provide these products in more compact yet robust designs to help them reduce the size and weight of drones and UAVs,” said Barry Cambeilh, director of sales and marketing at Teledyne Reynolds. “Our design philosophies provide reliable and safe high-voltage functionality and performance with 100% margin testing.”
Aerial photography and videography. With the ability to capture stunning aerial shots and videos from unique perspectives, drones provide photographers and filmmakers with aerial footage that was once only possible with expensive helicopters or cranes. From cinematic shots in films to videos for real estate and tourism, drones have redefined visual storytelling.
Emergency response. Drones can enter disaster areas and war zones to deliver food and supplies in situations when ground-based travel is difficult or dangerous. Drones can also be equipped with thermal imaging cameras to identify the location of survivors and monitor forest fires ahead of fire crews.
Rosenberger is a longtime leader in UAV interconnects, with a range of connectors for transmission of high data rates (up to 20 Gb/s) for positioning accuracy when detecting and inspecting objects in GPS or lidar (Light Detection and Ranging) systems, systems for interruption, or error-free signal transmission between sender and receiver.
Commercial drones are also used in racing competitions, mining activities, security systems, and many other applications. As drone technology continues to refine, we’ll see more and more of these powerful devices in the skies.
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