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What are drones?

Drones are small or medium-sized unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They’re unique in that they can drive remotely and autonomously, and they’re capable of maintaining a controlled, sustained level of flight. 

The drone system combines robotics with aeronautics. They can be powered by an electric, jet, or combustion motor. They also have very modern equipment: GPS, radar control, infrared, and high-resolution cameras. 

How do drones work?

Drones work much like other modes of air transportation, such as helicopters and airplanes: the engine is turned on, it starts up, and the propellers rotate to enable flight. Then, the pilot uses the remote control to direct its flight from the ground. Many drones have the option to set a course automatically. This is possible thanks to the incorporation of GPS, which is adjusted to reach the given destination. The route is recorded by a camera, and the pilot can see the image from their command position.

Most drone models usually have four propellers, though there are models with three, six, and even eight. The propellers are usually double-bladed, and to keep the vehicle stable in the air, two propellers rotate in one direction while the others go in the opposite direction. 

Every drone has a “central flight controller,” which works to maintain stability. This device also measures the strength and direction of the magnetic field and works like a compass. The controller receives information on the drone’s location through GPS; it then sends information to the Electronic Speed Control, which lets the motor use the revolutions needed to make the flight as safe and stable as possible. 

How can drones be used?

Unmanned aerial vehicles can have multiple uses, ranging from commercial purposes to civil works and infrastructure inspections and recreational use. Some possible uses of drones include:

  • Search and rescue.
  • Monitoring traffic.
  • Weather measurements and observations for fire fighting. 
  • Applying pesticides, irrigation systems, and harvest monitoring.
  • Military defense of the airspace to distinguish objects from people and the search for bombs or weapons. 
  • Border surveillance. 
  • Archaeological inspection.
  • Animal tracking for research purposes. 
  • Recording for audiovisual productions of scenes that were previously impossible or very expensive to shoot.

Spanish drone regulations 

The Spanish Aviation Safety and Security Agency (AESA, in Spanish) is in charge of regulating the use of drones; they enforce European Regulations RE 2019/947 and RD 2019/945. RD 1036/2017 will also remain in effect until January 1, 2022.

Drone pilots should consider the following:

  • The aircraft must be within the pilot’s field of vision.
  • The flight must stay at less than 120 meters in altitude.
  • Flying within an 8 km perimeter around an airport, airfield, or controlled airspace is prohibited.
  • Every drone must carry an identification plate.
  • Recording people or disclosing images of them without prior authorization is prohibited.

Currently, the Official Drone Pilot License is only required for Spanish law enforcement (the FCS, in Spanish). Anyone else who has a drone weighing 250 grams or more only needs an accredited certificate of training. To fly in the open category – low-risk operational flights that do not require any authorization or pre-flight declaration – pilots must pass an AESA exam at level 1 or 2. To fly in the specific category – flights that do not qualify as an open category and therefore require prior authorization, for which they must submit a safety study – passing the exam at level 3 is necessary. 

However, current regulations removed the distinction between flights for work or professional reasons and those for leisure and fun. The only requirement for both is civil liability insurance.

Drones and sustainability

Over time, the alliance between drone technology and the field of sustainability has grown stronger:

  • Thanks to high-definition cameras built into drones, it’s s possible to get precise images of agricultural fields and large land areas, substituting ground or air surveying vehicles that generate higher emissions. 
  • Drones are used at solar and wind plants to identify failures, material losses, or malfunctions without the need for physically sending in personnel to facilities, which translates into savings in fuel, time, and money.
  • With drones, it’s also possible to measure air quality, the pollen level, and atmospheric conditions through built-in sensors. The information collected can later be used to identify patterns and prepare climatological studies. 

Fun facts about drones 

  • In the United States, it’s already possible to make purchases online and enjoy home delivery of 2.3 kg packages within 30 minutes, thanks to drones.
  • In recent years, drones for domestic use have been used to record tourist attractions and capture panoramic views. This is common among travel, tourism, and lodging companies, but also in audiovisual content by YouTubers and Instagrammers who specialize in travel and lifestyle.

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