Traditional drones, or UAVs, consist of both a non-manned aircraft and some form of ground-based controller. Drone-in-a-box systems, on the other hand, deploy autonomously from a box that also functions as a landing pad and charging base. After carrying out a pre-programmed list of instructions, they return to their "base" to charge and/or upload information.
Stand-alone drone-in-a-box systems are composed of three main components.: a ground station that charges and shelters the drone, the drone itself, and a computer management system that allows the operator to interact with the system, including multiple drones. The ground station also provides battery charging and conducts health checks, and can be made of either metal or carbon fibre.
Main article on UAV history: History of unmanned aerial vehicles
The first attempted use of drone-in-a-box technology involving a ground state was by the US Air Force in 1968 using a high-altitude SIGINT project called Compass Dwell by the Air Force Security Services.
The AFSS hoped to solve two problems they faced with the Combat Dawn program: high RPV development costs and high operations and maintenance costs.
Compass Dwell was optionally piloted and designed to be disassembled and packed into an Air Force C-141 Starlifter Jet Transport, an effort to solve the deployment problems inherent in previous helicopter recovery methods.
This technology was an important way for the continental US to respond to any spot on the globe, enhancing the country's weapon systems.
Ultimately, Compass Dwell ended up not catching on because of foreign airspace control restrictions and the propeller design, which went against the Air Force's idea of a futuristic, unpiloted plane. The project was more exploratory than a legitimate candidate for adoption.
In 2018, multinational Italy-based manufacturer and distributor of electricity and gas Enel completed the first industrial deployment of an autonomous drone-in-box system to carry out round-the-clock operations at their Torrevaldaliga Nord power plant facility, becoming the first global corporation to purchase a drone-in-a-box solution .
Drone-in-a-box systems have been a focus of interest for militaries as a less expensive and less dangerous alternative to human-led communications, resupply, and offensive missions.
In January 2017, the Department of Defense and Strategic Capabilities Office completed a successful demonstration of an autonomous "swarm" of "micro-drones" at China Lake, California. In February 2017, the US Marine Corps ran a drone-in-a-box trial to test the viability of using both autonomous helicopters and smaller drones to resupply front-line troops without the need for a human pilot.
Autonomous, drone-in-a-box systems have been used to survey the progress of construction and capture visuals during the construction of the Gulf Port in Haifa, Israel.
In 2018, CERTUS Port Automation signed an agreement to deploy the autonomous drone-in-a-box solution to enhance port security, becoming the first company in the sector to embrace the technology.
Drone-in-a-box technologies have been used to bolster security in commercial and military applications, automatically deploying when alarms are tripped and providing close-up footage or carrying out scheduled patrols.
Additionally, companies have used drone-in-a-box technologies to support security at large events
Companies have also embraced drone-in-a-box technology to survey farms and golf courses by using multispectral cameras that can be tuned to respond to specific light wavelengths, including some infrared. Using these cameras fixed on drone-in-a-box systems, drones can detect health-related changes in vegetation.
Drone-in-a-box solutions are used today to support operations at power plants, capturing aerial video and data to be streamed to personnel in real time. The scheduled missions can enable human/vehicle detection, alert operators to gas/water leaks and monitor for other maintenance abnormalities. In 2018, Israel-based Percepto partnered with Italian electricity and gas provider Enel to launch their on-site autonomous drone system at the Torrevaldaliga Nord power plant.