25 October 2015, Lagos – The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) has promised to deploy drones in fighting crude oil theft. The Nigerian Security and Civil Defense Corps perhaps, as a result of synergy with the NNPC, has been reported to have procured one to fight pipeline vandalism. It is certain that other agencies will find the machine invaluable in the days ahead. Some tips have been put together, in conjunction with a United Kingdom based drone expert, to assist end-users make informed decision on drone deployment.
The market is new and options can be very complicated with prices varying wildly between $300 and $100,000 for drones available to civilians depending on agility, load capacity, flight time, picture quality etc. Most drones are not camera specific and are built to support a vast range of cameras. So, the picture quality and recording time will depend on the camera the end user looks at using and the flight time the drone can offer. Some are designed to fly for up to 50mins carrying a payload capacity of over 6kg example being the SteadiDrone VADER.
CHECK LOCAL UNMANNED AERIAL VEHICLE, UAV REGULATIONS: What are the regulations in Nigeria guiding the deployment of drones? A visit to the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority will clarify issues.
AFFORDABILITY: Drones vary by 2 to 3 orders of magnitude in price for reasons earlier articulated. The price bands are broken into the following groups:
<$400 e.g. Parrot AR Drone
<$1,000 e.g. uDrones.
$1,000 – $2,000 e.g. Event 38 unmanned systems.
$3,000 – $4,000 e.g. Research Drones.
$13,000 – $30,000 e.g. Sensefly.
$30,000 plus e.g. Gatewing.
CHECK RADIO FREQUENCIES USED: This can be got from the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission. Common frequencies are listed below:
R/C Control, 433MHz, 2.4GHz;
Telemetry, 433MHz, 915MHz
2.4GHz; Video Streaming
1.2 – 1.3GHz, 2.4GHZ, 5.8GHz.
Also, be sure that the power used is within the allowable limits. 100mW and 1W are common limits assuming omnidirectional transmitting antennas.
TAKE-OFF AND LANDING: For fixed wing aircraft, take-off and landing needs to be considered. Therefore, automatic landing can be a deceptive term. Most autopilots today have limited accuracy in landing so you may need a large open area to ensure safe recovery. Don’t expect military-precision automatic landing from commercial drones just yet.
WHAT IS INCLUDED: Make sure you are aware of what is included in any system you buy. You may be expected to provide your own batteries, battery charger, camera or even a remote controller, R/C. Most providers allow you to use your own laptop as a ground station or will provide one pre-configured for the system.
SERVICE/REPAIRS Fact: Your drone will, through normal usage, crash or otherwise, be damaged. The reality is not just as high as a manned aircraft and you are probably not as well trained as a commercial pilot. Check on the price and availability of replacement airframes. Lead time can be anything from a few days to many weeks so, you’ll want to know ahead of time what to expect. Some airframes, especially small foam ones, are easy to repair in the field with tape or glue. Anything with fiberglass or wood will be difficult or impossible to repair, so you may want to have spares on hand.
TERMINOLOGY: A lot of equipment, especially for lower cost drones is borrowed from the R/C world. There are plenty of confusing acronyms and hardly-documented terminology that will not help in your mission to buy a drone. Below are some of the common terms that get thrown around which the general public won’t be familiar with, including some that are specific to drones.
Drone/UAV/UAS – All are basically the same thing with slightly different connotations.
FPV – First Person View; refers to live video being transmitted to the ground station for the operator to see what the plane sees in flight.
RTF – Ready to Fly; generally means the aircraft will arrive completely assembled but does not mean that the kit will include everything needed to fly (often, it refers to only the aircraft and the user is expected to provide all electronics).
TX/RX – Transmitter/Receiver…Can refer to any component transmitting or receiving data. Generally, it refers ambiguously to the R/C controller, telemetry radios and video radios.
R/C – Remote (Radio) Control…Can refer either to the entire hobby of controlling any vehicle remotely or can refer specificallyto the handheld device thattransmits the controls (R/C Controller).
*S – Number of cells of a LiPo battery example4S is a 4 cell battery. Each cell is nominally 3.7 volt so thisalso tells you the voltage of the pack.
*C – Capacity of the battery, used as a multiplier. Most batteries are rated for a certain rate of discharge. A 30C battery is rated to deliver 30 times its owncapacity (e.g. a 5Ah 30C battery can deliver 150A).
Finally, getting it right the first time with a new technology implies understanding it right, which is the reason for the details. Furthermore, deploying drones to high risk areas implies choosing a high altitude flying type else it will be shot down, except in areas where there are enough boots on ground to checkmate any such acts. It is up to the end user now.
*Kayode Adeoye is an oil and gas expert from Lagos.