Ask the Expert: Breaking Down UAV Reliability
| April 7, 2023 |
PHX in flight - drone reliability

Whether it be building relationships or buying a new product, dependency is a big factor in determining whether or not you follow through. Imagine buying a new car and the dealer saying it isn’t very reliable, would you still buy it? Most likely, no – so why would you buy an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) you can’t count on?  

UAV reliability should be a main factor in determining the aircraft you invest in, because purchasing a UAV is an investment both financially and in terms of time spent. So, taking that time to find what is not only the most effective and efficient option, but also something you can depend on.  


Why is UAV Reliability Important?

The importance of having a sense of UAV reliability can boil down into three main things: valuing your time, protecting your investment, and ensuring public and personal safety.  

For the modern commercial UAV operator, it isn’t about getting a perfect panoramic shot or flying for entertainment; they are most likely using them to provide value to either their employer or customer. This implies that the time being spent in the field operating their aircraft is tied to some type of monetary value. So, if the aircraft experiences down time, value isn’t being generated and ROI begins to decrease. Simple and reliable operation of UAV equipment is going to maximize profitability from its use.  

Due to UAV operation commonly occurring offsite, you are often faced with tools, spares, internet access, and power not always being readily available. This may result in some down time, which like stated above, leading to potential risk of sunken cost. Not only this, but when offsite, you can also be opened to more unknown risks and liabilities.   

Reliability also assists you in protecting your investments, considering purchasing a UAV is a capital investment itself. I mean, wouldn’t you want to lower the risk of having to replace or repair the equipment as much as possible? Not only in a monetary sense, flying a UAV is also a time commitment. And time and costs don’t start during the actual flight, operators have also sunk their time into planning their flight, preparing their gear, driving to the location, and setting up. 

Protecting your equipment with a safe flight ensures the publics and your own safety. You want to have confidence that your equipment will not fall into an uncontrolled state. If that were to happen, the results can vary from an airspace violation or collision with foreign property, aircraft, structures, or personnel. 


Determining UAV Reliability: What Should You Prioritize?

When breaking down the design for the UAV, it should be strategically constructed for longevity and extended daily use in potentially unfavorable conditions. UAVs are used in a variety of applications and environments – making versatility critical. If the aircraft needs to work all day every day, then it needs to be designed to work under those conditions. This ideology can also be applied to weather, dust, obstacles, and other such conditions that may pose difficulty to the flight. 

The aircraft being used should be designed to accomplish the mission at hand, so using the right tool for the job plays a role in reliability. For example, using a small footprint, highly portable UAV to map large areas may not be the right fit, as it will likely add more wear and tear on the motors from the prolonged flight time and back-to-back battery swaps. A fixed-wing could be considered a more reliable solution for mapping a larger area as they are designed for longer endurance flights.  

Finally, a reliable aircraft is designed with well understood technology and doesn’t rely on flashy features. Flashy new technology may have a “wow” factor by offering a unique solution to a common problem. However, new technologies are not always as well understood and there still may be development hurdles that need to be discovered and solved before the technology is proven to be as reliable as the existing technology. Because why have the newest and coolest technology without knowing how to work it? 


Pinpointing Features of Reliable Commercial UAVs

We’ve broken down the general design surrounding UAV reliability, but what are some characteristics and resources to look for? 

While features that boost reliability in an aircraft vary from hardware to software to your own practices, three specific features to be on the lookout for include: 

  • Obstacle avoidance sensors, assist in avoiding walls and other large flat surfaces 
  • Smart batteries, most effective and efficient source of power and help to ensure that your UAV can accomplish their mission 
  • Software fail-safes, increase both the safety and reliability of an aircraft 

Now not all three of these are common or required, so don’t assume that they are included when you’re purchasing your UAV. For example, with the obstacle avoidance sensors, they face a value deficit when it comes to trees, bushes, wires, cables, and other sparce objects. And while it isn’t required for all situations, it adds a sense of reliability for avoiding these potential hazards. But as the demand for more dependable aircraft continues to increase, we will begin to see more of these features more frequently.  

Besides specific hardware and software qualities, reliability falls into the hands of your knowledge and practices regarding your UAV system.  

A significant factor of both a successful and dependable flight is training and learning the ins and outs of navigating your aircraft. One of (if not) the best ways to ensure UAV reliability is through proper pilot training. A properly trained pilot will know about their UAV and what to do if they encounter a problem in flight or on the ground. This includes understanding failsafe actions and what they should be doing as a pilot when they activate, how to manually control it, and how to properly maintain their aircraft. And many commercial UAVs on the market today have training courses specific to the aircraft – ensuring you learn how to best pilot and maintain it.  

Going more into maintenance, as a pilot, you should know exactly what needs to be done in terms of maintaining your aircraft. They can be similar to a small engine in the sense of when you take care of them, they will work when you need them to. But on the flip side, if you never inspect them, store the batteries improperly, or fail to replace consumable components then the system has a higher chance of failure. 


Want to learn more about capturing aerial imagery? Watch our free on-demand webinar, Ag Drone Deep Dive: Maximizing Aerial Imagery Collection with Fixed-Wing Drones.
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