Creating a Killer Drone App
By Dickey Singh, CEO Pyze
What is a Drone?
The answer certainly depends on who you ask that there is certainly a lot of differing opinions on what a Drone is. Before we attempt to answer or explain what a Drone means to us, and how the military, commercial and recreational Drones differ, let us go through some terminology, where there is a general consensus.
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) are simply aircraft without pilots on board the aircraft. When flown remotely either from the ground, ship or an adjacent aircraft, they are referred to as Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA). The military also uses the term Remotely Piloted Aerial Vehicle (RPAV). Remotely Piloted Aircraft together with the remote control system are referred to as Unmanned Vehicle Systems (UAS) by US Federal Aviation Administration.
Autonomous aircraft are UAVs that use GPS, sense and avoid collision avoidance systems, autopilots, and multitude of sensors. They can fly autonomously based on pre-programmed flight plans. Advanced autonomous aircraft also use a combination of artificial intelligence, image and video recognition software on board and have the capability of rerouting and correcting previously programmed flight plans.
A helicopter is lifted and propelled by rotors. They can be manned or unmanned. They generally have two rotors one for lift and another for circular stabilization. A quad-rotor helicopter or commonly known as a Quadcopter has four rotors, two rotating clockwise and the other two rotors rotating anti-clockwise, collectively to control the speed and lift of the Quadcopter. An Octocopter and Hexacopter have eight and six rotors respectively, with half of the rotors rotating clockwise.
So, What is a Drone?
Commercial drones are UAVs which transport a payload, carry out a specific function including thermal imaging, firefighting, aerial surveillance, police support, homeland security, geo-mapping, nature photography, real-estate photography, wildlife and livestock monitoring, traffic reporting, and surveying for mineral deposits and fossil fuels.
Military drones perform thermal imaging, aerial surveillance, launch missile strikes or perform photography.
Recreational drones range from camera-equipped toys to prosumer first-person-view drones.
Anti-Drone drones Anti-Drone equipment like Maldrone or DroneShield mounted on a Drone that works on protected radio frequencies are custom built for government use.
Underwater drones Not all Drones fly. Underwater exploration Drones are usually tethered as radio does not work underwater.
Ground drones or Unmanned Ground Vehicles (UGV) operate on the ground. The use ranges from military to toys for hobbyists.
Unmanned ground, aerial and underwater vehicles capable of being remotely controlled, with autonomous software ranging from a simple 'return home' feature to artificial intelligence with a multitude of senors, all may be referred to as drones.
We love app-controlled drones. All devices that can be controlled by an iOS or Android app, which acts as a remote controller for the device and optionally provides first-person-view to the commercial drone pilots and hobbyists.
This includes management of drones and drone-like devices over Bluetooth (short range), ad-hoc WiFi (medium range) and radio via an external transmitter connected to controlling device (long range).
A killer app capable of controlling drones must track the drone technographics, the radio transmitter that physically connects to the controlling device, the app used to manage both the drone and attached radio transmitter, along with user of the app.
Preflight health check
Before beginning a flight it is a good idea to do a quick health check of both the drone and transmitter or controller. A Preflight health check could include the storage (usually a micro SD card) presence and status if the drone is equipped with a camera, battery status of drone and device, calibration status and satellite lock status for GPS-equipped drones.
In-flight health check
An in-flight check includes the overall status of drone, app, device and attached transmitter.
Roll status - accomplished by controlling the Aileron (moving the right stick to the left or right) which maneuvers the drone / quadcopter left or right.
Pitch status - accomplished by controlling the Elevator (moving right stick forwards or backward) which maneuvers the drone / quadcopter forwards or backward.
Yaw status – accomplished by controlling Rudder (moving the left stick to the left or to the right) Rotates the drone / quadcopter left or right. Points the front of the drone / quadcopter different directions and helps with changing directions while flying.
Throttle status – accomplished by controlling Throttle. Engaged by pushing the left stick forwards. Disengaged by pulling the left stick backward. This adjusts the altitude, or height, of the quadcopter.
Trimming settings - Adjust roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle if they are off balance. e.g. "+20-20+4+0" would mean adjustments in percent of 20%, -20%, +4% and 0% for roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle respectively.
Drone and app connected or disconnected
Drone is connected to the app via the controlling device or transmitter. Time to connect depends on surroundings and interference. Post this after successfully connecting.
Drone is disconnected from controlling device (app + device + attached transmitter) either explicitly or because of environment or distance.
Drone is Airborne or has landed
Should be sent after Drone is airborne or has landed along with relevant status.
Flight Paths and Planning
Flight paths are pre-programmed paths that the Drone would fly. Every Flight Path should be associated with a unique identifier or name. Report when a new flight path is created, uploaded, deleted, flown or edited (when flight path is edited it needs to be uploaded again to the drone).
First Person View
This allows a lower quality video to be transmitted to the controller in near real-time with an acceptable lag. Report when enabling and disabling FPV.
Aerial Videos, Pictures, and Time-lapse
Report when starting and stopping aerial videos or pictures. Each video or picture should be identified by an identifier.
In Time-lapse drone photography the frequency at which frames are captured (the frame rate) is much lower than that used to view the sequence. When played at normal speed, time appears to be moving faster and thus lapsing. For example, an image of a scene may be captured once every second then played back at 30 frames per second; the result is an apparent 30 times speed increase. Specify total shots, and seconds between shots. The playback time would approximately be the product of total shots and seconds between shots
Return to base
Requested Drone to return to base. This is where the drone comes back to the pilot. Some drones return back to the original location from which they were airborne and others return to the current location of the transmitter. The later uses the GPS from the phone device.
Drones support multiple flying modes depending on the purpose they serve and experience of the pilot.
Helicopter flying mode Similar to flying a helicopter, once you tilt the quadcopter (roll) it will not auto-level itself back to its original position. Even if you let go of the stick and it returns to the middle, the drone will stay tilted. Not all drones support this Manual mode.
Attitude or Auto-level flying mode Report when switched Attitude or Auto-level flying mode. Once the sticks are centered, the drone will level itself out.
GPS Hold flying mode Switched to GPS Hold flying mode. Returns the drone's position once the sticks have been centered. The same as attitude mode (auto-level) but using an on-board GPS. Drones that support GPS usually have this mode.
Custom Device Mode A number of drones and quadcopter have numeric modes. Report when switching to a custom device mode. Some drones have numbered modes 1, 2, 3.
Set Maximum Altitude Drones that support GPS can limit the altitude to avoid flying into restricted airspace
Set Auto Return Time This feature is available on drones that are used for surveying. If the drone has to survey 4 jobs you can specify the time in seconds for a job to ensure enough battery is available for subsequent jobs. The math is performed by app
Set Auto Return When Memory Reaches Threshold The drone can be requested to return when storage memory reaches a low threshold. E.g. return when storage is below 4KB. This is useful for surveilling drones.
Set Auto Return When Battery Reaches Threshold The drone can be requested to return when the battery reaches a low threshold.
Article by Dickey Singh
Dickey Singh is the CEO and co-founder at Pyze and has over two decades of experience in mobile, Big Data and SaaS. He started Pyze to help all mobile and web businesses build successful brands by personalizing and automating relationship building with their users.
Pyze Growth Intelligence® is a transformative SaaS platform that enables mobile and web app businesses to automate engagement, retention and growth of their users.
Background attributions: www.parrot.com