The Rise of Drones
Drones have become a mainstream recreational product in today’s society. According to the Federal Aviation Administration, sales of recreational drones are expected to grow from 2.5 million in 2016 to 7 million in 2020. While many people consider drones for use as a toy or flying camera, they were originally used in military settings. The first recorded use of drones was by the Austrians in 1849, after which they were used extensively for aerial surveillance beginning in World War I. Drones for civilian applications became popular in the 2010’s when a commercial drone was introduced. Today, a small, camera-equipped recreational drone can be purchased for as little as $45.¹
Composites Advance the Power of Drones
As the uses for drones have continued to evolve, so have the innovative materials that are used to manufacture these popular products. High performance composite materials are now being used to manufacture industrial drones that are capable of taking on new and innovative missions. Recent applications include advanced photo and video capture, search and rescue operations, deliveries, emergency response and advanced agriculture.
One such rescue operation recently took place when an aquatic drone made with an epoxy resin, and reinforced with fiberglass, carbon fiber and ceramic fibers, rescued four people from drowning after they were caught in a beach current.² The drone used in this rescue mission featured a lineup of advanced composite materials that were used to construct its hull, its carbon fiber reinforced plastics (CFRP) shaft, and its pump wall and exit nozzle walls, among other parts.
When various components of a drone are constructed with composites materials such as these, it leads to significant performance and functionality advantages, including light material weights, extreme durability, impressive strength-to-weight ratios and the ability to be molded into complex shapes to reduce the number of parts needed to manufacture a drone.
Composite Drones are Flying High with Potential
With all these benefits at drone manufacturers’ fingertips, drones made from advanced composite materials have the potential to be used in an increasing number of industrial applications. The aquatic rescue mission may just be the tip of the iceberg for composite drones, especially considering these drones can be launched from a beach, boat, bridge or helicopter and guided via radio control through surf and debris to reach potential drowning victims within seconds. Based on the success in this scenario, they could be used to prevent hundreds of thousands of worldwide drowning deaths that occur annually³ while freeing up first responders for triage or other rescue tasks.
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