Autonomous drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that work with operating and navigation software powered by artificial intelligence (AI) and do not require a human pilot. Remote-controlled aerial vehicles have been used, mainly by military forces, since World War II. With recent technological advances in the computing power of microprocessors, the miniaturization of sensors and specially designed software, UAS technology has established a new and important niche in the evolution of aviation. Small UAS (SUA), also called unmanned aircraft systems, unmanned aerial vehicles or simply drones, are increasingly accessible for commercial, government and private use in a myriad of wide-ranging applications.
Note that the UAS Research Center at Oak Ridge National Laboratory recently published a best practice guide for the operation of the UAS by electric companies. See the sidebars for an overview of the legal operating rules. There are different levels of vehicle autonomy (however, there is no specific hierarchy for drones). At this time, drones can achieve conditional automation, in which it is necessary for a pilot to monitor the operation of the vehicle on his own.
Almost by definition, drones remove the human element from the equation and, according to experts, there will come a day when humans won't be needed to fly drones at all. Although a traditional drone has a camera in which video and still images can be stored on an integrated memory device or, in some cases, transmitted wirelessly to a portable device, the operational situation changes when the drone's sensors can communicate directly with an industrial control or monitoring, control and data acquisition (SCADA) system. Meanwhile, Skydio's 3D Scan is the first to achieve partial autonomy, the next level below, by which the pilot can replace a drone that, otherwise, would be autonomous if necessary (and American Robotics became the first company approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to operate drones without operators on site). Note that the calculation in Figure 4 incorporates the total weight of drones, but specifically in the context of sensor-loaded drones.
That said, drone flights themselves have a high degree of automation. In agriculture and cartography, more than 60% of real drone flights are fully automated. Regarding the information presented in Figure 2, the sensor-loaded drones were controlled by standards approved by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), but the sensor modules communicated directly with the utility company's central communication network through a 900 MHz wireless connection and were available in the SCADA system (instead of using the same wireless channel for drone control). Designed to provide aerial data services through a network of intelligent drones deployed and connected to an urban control center, the urban drone infrastructure works as a municipal service that helps shorten the response times of security and rescue forces in emergency situations, supports police and national security activities and streamlines the various services provided by the municipality for public benefit.