While most quadcopters rely on some form of pilot interference to operate, there are many that can function autonomously and Beyond Visual Line of Sight (BVLOS). These drones are not required to be piloted nor manually charged. Drone in a box is an autonomous drone with a self-contained base station.
Conventional drones do display a certain degree of autonomy but are still largely dependent on pilots. However, a drone in a box solution deploys the drone based on pre-programmed instructions. The drone lands back at its station after the task is completed.
A Self-Contained System
This system comprises three parts:
- The ground station box that shelters and recharges the drone
- The drone
- A computer system that acts as an intermediary between the supervising pilot and the drone.
The box has other applications apart from acting as a charging station. For instance, it performs regular health checks on the drone to ensure smooth functioning. In some cases, instead of housing a regular charging station, the box consists of a battery swapping mechanism. Therefore, whenever a drone lands, it can swap to a fully charged battery and resume operation within seconds.
The drone-in-a-box system is not new. The US Air Force experimented with the concept in 1968 with their SIGINT project called the Compass Dwell. However, the first use of modern boxed drone solutions did not take off until 2017. Airobotics was the first company to start commercial drone in a box solutions in 2017 and it has quickly risen in popularity. Several other companies have taken this approach.
Home Security Drone in a Box Solutions
Drone in a box is a popular concept among home security companies. Sunflower Labs unveiled their autonomous drone security system at CES 2020. The drone in a box system consists of the hive (box), the bee (drone), and of course, the sunflowers (garden lamps with motion sensors).
Whenever unusual activity or motion is detected in the property, the hive deploys the bee drone. The drone proceeds to scout the property for anomalies and alerts the owner. Recently, a similar indoor home security system was launched by Amazon.
Airobotics is the industry leader in drone in a box solutions. The company provides one of the most comprehensive products that cater to a variety of industrial applications. Its drones are actively deployed in the mining, construction, and power generation industries for the purposes of survey, mapping, inspection, and security.
Timely automated inspections are extremely useful for stockpile management and surveilling critical assets. Airobotics utilizes the battery swapping mechanism through a robotic arm within its base station box. The base station is heavy-duty and weatherproof making it an ideal choice for use in rugged locations. The Singapore government also used Airobotics drones to maintain social distancing.
The drone in a box concept continues to get better every year. Several companies such as Azur Drones and Flytbase are bringing innovation to this emerging technology. However, in a recent development, the consumer drone giant DJI has sought a patent for a proprietary drone in a box technology. DJI, reportedly, filed for a pattern in 2017 as well. Maybe the company could announce something in 2022. It is mere speculation at this point but the interesting fact is the sheer number of rapid development in this area.