Since the closing of the 20th Century, the popularity and utilization of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) have increased markedly. The versatility and cost-efficiency of the UAV make it an essential asset in the arsenal of modern militaries and private companies. UAV applications range from intelligence gathering to weather measurement to reconnaissance to surveillance to target acquisition to precision strikes. As with numerous other technologies, what began as a military project has spread into people’s everyday lives. For instance, mining companies employ UAVs to better determine where they will dig a quarry. Another example — although somewhat bizarre — of commercial use of UAVs is to safely ferry medical equipment in contested zones. A company called Zipline utilises UAVs to transport blood to hospitals and clinics across Rwanda.

But what makes an effective UAV?

First, an accurate and robust navigation system is essential — if not a matter of life and death. A pilot has to be able to guide his UAV with precision. When the mission entails a strike against a target or the provision of air support to ground troops, then the internal navigation system becomes a matter of life or death: If the system isn’t pinpoint precise, innocents or friendly troops could be killed by an errant missile.

For their navigation, UAVs use an Inertial Navigation System (INS), which utilises a variety of sensors, such as a radar altimeter, GPS, and Inertial Measurement Unit (IMU), to precisely navigate. These tools measure the drone’s position, acceleration, velocity, and Euler angle (a measurement to determine an object’s orientation) to determine the trajectory.

Second, a stout and clear sensory and image capturing equipment. Reliable optics can make the difference between the success or failure of a mission. UAV optics must produce fast and accurate footage. Pilots and analysts depend on clear unblurred images. For example, a blurred image can be the difference between discovering a Russian missile site or a terrorist high-value target (HVT) in Afghanistan.

Third, a resilient and efficient operating system. Without a decent operational endurance, a UAV is worthless. And this applies to both commercial and military missions. For instance, if a real estate agency wishes to survey potential building sites, having a UAV with limited battery life — thus needing to either frequently recharge it or have backup drones —  wouldn’t be the most efficient way to do business. In a military setting, on the other hand, commanders need to have eyes on target 24/7. And when you add numerous points-of-interest, then high-endurance drones are gold.