Drones are becoming a crucial and mainstream tool across various sectors, from farming and entertainment to insurance and manufacturing.
As their presence increases across a number of industries, there’s no doubt that young engineers will need to know the latest UAV technology, safety procedures and privacy policies, says Simon Duggleby, technical marketing manager, RS Components.
What is a drone?
Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), most commonly known as drones, are small aircraft which are often used when it is too difficult, expensive or risky for a manned aircraft to fly. These unmanned pieces of technology can be installed with cameras, GPS and sensors to monitor surrounding conditions.
How will drones change engineering and the world of business for students?
The ability of UAVs to reach previously inaccessible areas, gather staggering amounts of data, making them an obvious choice for those who work across huge areas of land, in dangerous terrain or manage large construction projects. UAVs are predicted to replace people power in more dangerous roles, creating a safer environment for hands-on workers across various industries. Oil rig engineers, firefighters and other emergency services are already utilising drones.
RS Components lists some of the newest drone technology in various industries, highlighting the huge impact of UAV technology. Here are some of the areas in which drones are already being implemented:
3D Mapping: Drones equipped with 3D mapping software already greatly support planning and design in construction, risk management in insurance and land maintenance in agriculture.
Monitoring: Drones with thermal imaging and sensors help surveying powerline networks and detect gas leaks, greatly improving the safety of employees.
Lighting: Drones are being used at major events like Coachella to perform choreographed routines. They are also being trialled as personal streetlights which can be called via an app to light up dark streets.
Disaster Monitoring & Management: In the wake of a natural disaster, aerial drones are used to help locate survivors, analyse damaged infrastructure and deliver much-needed supplies and equipment.
The opportunities that drones will create are large and varied, from retail estate to advertising, it is becoming increasingly important for engineer undergraduates to have a foundational understanding about them.
What do the prospects look like?
A 2013 report released by the trade group Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, predicts that there will be more than 100,000 new jobs in unmanned aircraft by 2025, a figure that’s significance cannot be ignored. As drones will be present in such a variety of sectors, their functions will differ greatly. For example, drones for filmmaking will function completely differently to racing drones. As a result, the way they are designed, fixed, manufactured and controlled will vary immensely. For engineers, their careers do not stop at piloting, designing and fixing UAVs. Young engineers may find themselves working on the software which companies will use to operate drones for example.
The significant increase in drone technologies will mean that graduate engineers will have to familiarise with and keep up with the latest developments in any industry they work in. Looking to the future, it’s likely that in years to come graduate engineers may also find themselves being the brains behind developing new technology.
Where is the UAV market right now?
IEEE has looked into where the jobs are in drones, revealing that for new engineers it may be more difficult than expected. They describe the aerospace and defence sector as ‘hiring aggressively’, although most vacancies are looking for engineers with several years of experience.
The site suggests that there is a slight improvement in the commercial and consumer markets, but these remain limited as UAV companies are yet to work through government legalities with safety and privacy. It seems that general apprehension is currently holding back the drone industry, but once this has been tackled, drone use is predicted to skyrocket.
With more and more universities featuring modules on UAVs, new engineers are being prepared for careers in drone development. Whilst drones require a lot more research and development, it will be the engineers of our future that look into ways of improving their efficiency, safety and abilities. Although there are current limitations in the drone industry, it may offer a big and exciting task for aspiring engineers. It will be the engineers of tomorrow that introduce drones into our day-to-day lives.