Thursday, September 04, 2014

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles -- a technology soon to reach developing nations

I have long felt that unmanned areal vehicles would offer may opportunities for cost-effective applications in poor countries. These would range from remote sensing, to communications, to delivery of material in difficult circumstances. While the term "drones" seems to be associated in the minds of many with military uses, and even the delivery of weapons, there are many uses for the large and high performance vehicles developed by the military. There are also many more civilian vehicles, such as these available by mail order from

The Economist has an article about still another variety of such vehicles, high-altitude pseudo-satellites (HAPS): unmanned, ultralight, solar-powered, propeller-driven aircraft. But it is designed, just as some satellites are, to hover indefinitely over the same part of the world. With a 23-metre wingspan and a weight of only 50kg, it is fragile and must remain above the ravages of the weather and the jet stream both by day and by night. It therefore flies at an altitude of around 21km (70,000 feet) during daylight hours, and then glides slowly down to around 15km when the sun is unavailable to keep it aloft. 
Its solar cells, which are mounted on its wings, produce 1kW for every 1kg of panel. That power is fed into lithium-sulphur rechargeable batteries which can store 350 watt-hours per kilogram. (For comparison, the lithium-polymer batteries in iPhones store around 200 watt-hours per kilogram.)
The article also states:
Hovering drones could act as relays for telephone calls and internet traffic in places that do not have good enough infrastructure on the ground. And there is never a shortage of customers who would like to snoop on various parts of the Earth’s surface, whether for commercial or military reasons.......

Airbus is not alone in the HAPS game. Google and Facebook are involved as well.........Paul Brooks, spokesman for Airbus’s HAPS programme, says he does not see these firms as competitors, but rather as collaborators in proving the idea of endurance flight and promoting the changes in regulations needed to permit its safe use. 

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