What is drone?
Drone has been a common name for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), where no human pilot is required on board to operate. In other words, drone is a type of remotely controlled pilotless aircraft, which can come in numerous shapes, sizes and various function. Commonly, it is made from light composite materials for better maneuverability during flight. Other than maneuverability, drone can be equipped with numerous additional equipment, such as cameras, GPS, Geographic Information System (GIS), sensors and other related software or hardware.
What can it help in engineering world?
Drone is a flexible platform that offers wide range of functionalities and roles in different fields. They play roles in observation, site mapping, site inspection and aerial data collection, which are crucial in improving the efficiency and cost utilization in industry operations. Several field applications of drone in Malaysia are discussed below.
Recently in Malaysia, drone has been considered by Civil Aviation Authority Malaysia (CAAM), an authority for UAV under Malaysia’s airspace, to be a convenience device in agriculture sector with large scale plantation area mainly for field surveillance, and spraying pesticides and fertilizers. In order to achieve higher yield per hectare, better implementation of agriculture practices are been considered for better efficiency and cost saving. They are currently regulating and legalize the use of drone in the field to ensure the safety of drone use in field.
Apart from the agriculture field, UAV has already been utilized by utility companies like Tenaga Nasional Bhd (for power lines), Telekom Malaysia (telecommunication towers and applications), Petronas (oil and gas pipelines), highway authorities (traffic monitoring) and railway corporations (tracks).
In brief, drone utilization has become a norm in Malaysia industries, contributing to optimize the manpower planning and cost saving in daily operations.
What are the challenges in learning drone-flying?
Drone is still considered a new technology in consumer sector; it has recently become more accessible to individuals due to the technology advance and pricing. As acquiring drone-flying skill has never been easy, this arises some challenges in managing or educating these individuals to operate drone in a responsible manner. The challenges in educating the operators of drone are briefly discussed in the following sections.
For most individuals, it is the first time they are exposed in operating a drone. These individuals are not experienced in operating, and not familiar with the regulations in flying a drone safely and legally. This might pose some safety issues to especially the commercial pilots. There were some reports on civil drones flying near to commercial planes or helicopters, risking collision possibility. Although no collision between civil drone and commercial flights have been reported yet, we need to prevent and reduce these risks. Thus, upon acquiring these drones, individuals are required to undergo training and make aware of local restrictions for flying the drone. Individuals have to make themselves known of the height limit, restricted airspace and other situations that pose risk to local safety.
Technically, flying and operating a drone is not that challenging or difficult. Almost all existing modern smartphones are able to run the software for drone operation, as the specification requirement is not demanding. The training period for the new operator can be done in a few hours with minimal understanding for the maneuverability, photo taking, video recording and other built-in features. The challenge for the operator is to understand the factors affecting the performance or maneuverability of the drone. For example, at height over 100m, the wind speed is a great factor that affecting how the drone feedback on the input by operator. Under bad weather condition, wind resistance can affect the flight time, flight speed and possibly topple the drone. The underlying consequences are being taken lightly by these individuals, as they believe the performance of drone is capable to handle these environmental factors.
Apart from wind factors, individuals have to understand the flying range of the drone. By flying range, we are looking at the horizontal range, and flight time. Most of the commercial drone have typical single trip horizontal flying range between 500m to 3km. The flight time of typical drone ranging from 10 minutes to 30 minutes. These typical specifications may be misleading for some new users, as a deeper consideration is required to understand the real limit of the flight range. For example, under normal weather condition, drone is able to fly to maximum back and forth range of 3 km and possibly more under the specified flight times. However, under windy condition, the flight time to achieve similar range would be a lot more. Hence, there might be misjudge of flight limit, and the drone might consume most of its battery power during halfway of the trip. Normally, drone has safety feature to force land the drone before depleting its battery power. Although this safety feature may sound reliable, there are only minimal obstruction sensors been installed on board. Simply, during force landing, we cannot ensure that the force landing environment for the drone to be safe. The drone might end up on a road with busy traffic or hitting power line cables, where any of these situations are risky to cause accidents and unwanted property losses.
The next factor is the height limit set by CAAM and the restricted airspaces. In Malaysia, the height limit for any commercial UAV is 120m. For most of the drone, there are built in height restriction warning to inform user on the breaching of height limit. The reason for this restriction is mainly to prevent possible collision with commercial planes or helicopters. Local authority has categorized specific fly zone in their regulation, for the users to follow and expect strict actions taken when regulations have been violated.
In summary, the challenges above mainly revolves around the individual who operates the drone. They must be self- aware or properly trained to understand the consequences and limit of the drone.
How is drone-flying incorporated in teaching and learning in KLT?
Due to the increasing demand from industries and the rapid advancement of drone technology, KLT would like to grab the opportunity to offer free drone flying training which will be incorporated in existing engineering programs. Two types of drones will be used for teaching in the programme, which is the DJI Mini 2 and DJI E99 drone.
In order to facilitate comprehensive programme, drone training will be divided into 2 sessions, theory and practical sessions. In theory lesson, students are made aware of the local regulations and restrictions in operating a drone. They are required to understand the basic safety rules of flying the drone in open space. Apart from that, an introduction on the basic components of drone will also help enhance the students’ essential knowledge in drone. After familiarize with the components, students will be exposed to the user interface of the DJI Mini Fly App and learn about the basic features.
In practical session, lecturers will first demonstrate on how to maneuver the drone, and things to remember when operating it. Students are then given DJI E99 drone for maneuver practice. After a few try outs, students are given the DJI Mini 2 to operate at restricted height limit. There will be several interactive tutorials and achievements for students to join. Assignments will be given to individual such as taking picture of specific structure from specified height and perform survey record within a specific region.
KLT is committed to promote the use of drone in industry for better efficiency and cost saving. Recently, KLT submitted a proposal for the Roofing Maintenance Access Project for the Sibu Central Market to SMC. During the preliminary planning stage, DJI Mini 2 drone was actively used to survey the target building. The project was to look for ways to access the existing roofing of Sibu Central Market to provide access for building maintenance team to clean up the gutters and perform maintenance on the ventilation units.
Several snapshots and video were taken using DJI Mini 2 to pinpoint the locations for proposed accesses. Also, we were able to investigate the current roofing conditions and able to make modification updates on our proposal. We compiled the photo taken and video footage from DJI Mini 2 drone as presentation to SMC committees. This project serves as a great experience for KLT to further promote the use of drone in relevant industries.
In conclusion, drone technology has shown popularity among existing industries, up to a stage where skill to operate the drone becomes one of the future professional development. In conjunction to the industry demand, KLT offers free basic training programme for individual who are interested to learn the basic skill in operating a drone.