Bangladeshi drone-o-logy demystified!
The recent hype with drones has prompted us to actually take a closer look in to the actual situation. So in this issue of 'Bytes' we will be dissecting the concept, development, applications and future of drones in Bangladesh.
So what are Drones?
Before 1950s, the word drone would only mean 'Male Bee'. But with improvement in ICs, avionics and wireless communication over the years; man was able to craft Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) which had much smaller radar cross-section and much lesser noise signature from the engine which incited the nickname 'DRONE'.
For common folks not understanding the tech jargons, UAVs are of two types: Fixed Winged Aerial Vehicle and Rotor Winged Aerial Vehicle. The total system includes ground control station, relay station, near earth orbiting satellite etc. Altogether it's called Unmanned Aerial System (UAS).
Fixed Winged Aerial Vehicles are very similar to the conventional aircrafts. They require a run-way to take off and land.
Rotor winged aerial vehicles can be of several kinds: helicopter, cyclocopter, gyrodyne, quadcopter, octocopter etc. Quad copter is the most popular form of non-military grade drone. Four rotors that it has hence the name quad copter. Very few countries in the world have fully functional all-weather operational UASs.
UAVs are generally used for target practices, battlefield reconnaissance, providing attack capability for high-risk missions, shifting cargos and maintaining logistics operation, other civil and commercial uses etc.
Bangladesh & Drones
To begin with; there are no proper UAS in Bangladesh. Why? Probably because it requires extensive technological capabilities that Bangladesh is far from achieving and also it could cost the country a queen's ransom.
The first to bring in Aerial drones in Bangladesh was Bangladesh Army. These oversized fixed winged RC planes where used as targeting drones for their portable guided missile's target practicing. Most of these drones were imported from China and Thailand. Usually the drones did not have any sensor and no video feed or image capturing tools where embedded to it. Some engineers of the army were able to actually retrofit a camera with it. But it did not have any ground control station neither did it had any autonomous features. DRONE OR NOT: No way it's a drone.
The journeys of Quad-Rotor Aerial vehicles are fairly new in Bangladesh. In 2012 American International University –Bangladesh (AIUB) grads Kawsar Jahan and Nazia Ahsan showed off their quad-rotor drone, mainly built for one of their university projects, in the Digital Expo 2012 thus marking the journey of an elusive new chapter in indigenous drone building. Costing around Tk. 50,000/- plus, this drone has an operating range of 1.5 KM radius and can climb up to 650 feet. DRONE OR NOT: Can be developed to a civilian purpose drone.
Not too late, a lone wolf from Khulna University of Engineering Technology (KUET), Mamun Khan Dip also came up with a quad-copter as well. His copter was a remote controlled vehicle that could climb a height up to 300 feet. This project of Dip's caught the attention of a few more researchers of Bangladesh University of Engineering Technology (BUET). Together they teamed up and formed Aero Research Center (ARC) Bangladesh. Already they improved and developed two new variants: Bangla-drone and Ghuri1. These are the very first autonomous drones of Bangladesh which can hover around a given list of way points. In addition to that it has a ground center that be used for the landing and takeoff for the drone.Developed at a much lower cost than any conventional quadcopter that can be bought from international market, the actual cost might vary with features and add-ons, Dip said. This ARC official also added that DMP has conducted a test flight and is actively considering the acquisition of a fleet of drones for surveillance and security purposes. Specifications of these drones are not available yet but are assumed to have greater ceiling/climbing rate and much better endurance to increase the operational capabilities.
DRONE OR NOT: Entry level civil purpose drone.
Lately, added to the elite list of drone developers are a group of researchers from Shahjalal University (SUST). They came up with a fixed winged RC plane. Well, it's not a functioning drone yet. But Syed Rizwanul Haq Nabil, the team leader of this project, expects that with a couple of months or two they will be able to improve this RC plane to a civilian grade drone. This drone system would consist of several upgrades including ground station, onboard control system and will be loaded with sensors.
DRONE OR NOT: Not yet. More works pending.
Is that all we got?
No, indeed not. Drone based platforms made by local grads might be new but drone based photography is certainly not. Cygnus Aerial Photography, a venture by rookie pilot Naimul Islam Opu, is one of the pioneer's in aerial photography; not only in this country but also in the entire SAARC region. Currently this group owns several foreign imported drones with specialized photography equipment i.e. GoPro3 Black Edition, CANON powershot etc. They have done some works too. Most renowned one is for Canadian Broadcast Corporation (CBC) on their critically acclaimed investigative documentary named 'Made in Bangladesh'. In this documentary, Opu and his team provided some unseen aerial footage of collapsed Rana Plaza. Starting at Tk. 40,000/-, anyone can avail Opu and his teams services for their aerial photography needs.
The thin line between a drone and not a drone
Many of you might be wondering, what's the difference between RC toys that are in the market and a drone. Legally speaking, hobby crafts are not allowed to exceed 400 ft above ground, so if you see one flying high, it's probably a drone. Adding to that, list a RC plane must stay within line of sight whereas the flight operator will be operating DRONE from thousands of miles away. Our advice would be to shoot it down. If someone complains of the cost to replace, it's an RC Toy but if you shoot it and get arrested for destruction of government property, be assured it's a drone!
All jokes aside, these are the very first steps towards a greater goal- to be self sustained by developing key technologies in-house. But commercial grade parts required for these drones are also not easily available. Also these come with a steep price tag. Hence more and more funds should be allocated to ensure more and more research can be continued. A word of caution: before flying the drones, researchers are requested to contact proper authorities to make sure the route is safe for trial flights.