“Drone. At this point, the word might conjure up images of small, unmanned aircraft firing missiles in far flung warzones, but some have identified the potential for drones to make a far more positive and even humanitarian impact.
Drone technology is being, and has the potential to be, used for some incredible things, particularly when enterprising and creative people get to work on exploring what these might be.
Here are 6 areas in which these unmanned aerial machines are being used in ever more innovative ways.
Using drones for agriculture is nothing new – the Yamaha RMAX unmanned helicopter has been used in Japan for around 20 years, treating farmland that would be difficult or impossible to drive a tractor over. But the more technology evolves, the more useful drones become in this field (pun intended). Drones can be paired with software to monitor crop yields, rainfall, and other natural factors. In doing so, a drone can identify precisely what application of water, fertiliser etc., is needed and subsequently deliver it.
A properly outfitted and programmed drone can be a tremendous advantage to a farmer, using technology such as infrared to identify the efficiency of photosynthesis and therefore plant health. Farmers can get on with other tasks, knowing that their trusty drones are hard at work to ensure maximum crop yield and minimum cost.
After the devastating earthquake in Nepal in 2015, drones were used to map and analyse World Heritage buildings that had been heavily damaged. Without the use of drones, this process would have been both enormously costly and time-consuming – during which these buildings could have suffered more damage or even complete destruction. Furthermore, 3D models created from collected data aided in securing funding for repair and rebuilding.
Although this process was the main focus of the drones in Nepal, there are stories of how they may have also helped save lives. One remote village, for example, had not been heard from for days, so a drone operator was asked to send his drone up to have a look. They discovered severe damage throughout the village and rescue teams were dispatched. Had a scouting party been sent up the mountain instead of the drone, the whole process would have taken much longer and would have been far more trecherous.
Drones are cheap and expendable, so can be used to capture amazing images of, and data from, all sorts of dangerous natural phenomena- from active volcanoes to hurricanes. As visually stunning as these images are, they offer more than mere entertainment value.
Hurricanes (and their counterparts) currently cause $26 billion in damage worldwide, annually. That is projected to rise to $56 billion in the next century, to say nothing of their human costs. Capturing data from hurricanes, then, is a crucial task. NASA is just one organisation developing drones for monitoring dangerous weather. The Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel (HS3) can get closer to storms than any piloted aircraft could, and meteorologists hope to be able to use such drones to better predict and understand hurricanes, thus saving lives and money.
Along the Ottawa River, geese are running amok, shaking down the other animals for their lunch money and leaving the place uninhabitable for anything but their own kind. Here, drones are being used to chase off the dastardly birds by blasting out the sound of grey wolves. And drone-based wildlife conservation can be taken further still.
The protection of endangered animals is an ongoing battle, and one that we are sadly losing. Scientists spearheading the conservation of the Sumatran orangutan have developed an inexpensive, lightweight drone to map large swaths of land, which would otherwise be time-consuming and expensive. The drones can also be used to take photographs of orangutans’ treetop nests, which has not been possible before.
Going forward, drones might be instrumental in locating and tracking poachers in places like Asia and Africa, especially as the cost of outfitting them with relevant equipment comes down. They could be the key to turning the tide of this battle before it is too late.
Forget Amazon’s drone delivery – we’re talking about altruism. A remote African village – inaccessible due to impassable or non-existent roads, warlords, or other obstacles – needs food or medicine urgently? Dispatch a drone and save lives. Not only could a drone get there faster, it can avoid thieves and ensure its payload reaches the very people that need it.
But remote villages on distant continents aren’t the only places drones can save lives. Stefen Riegebauer, an Austrian graduate student, came up with a concept for a drone that would deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims, potentially arriving quicker than ambulances and thereby saving lives. Though Riegebauer never got beyond the concept stage, such drones are being constructed in Germany. Specifically designed for remote regions harder for ambulances to reach, the drones could be the difference between life and death for many people.
Construction and Maintenance
The use of drones in construction has become more popular, as it vastly reduces the cost of collecting and analysing site data. Just one drone flying over the construction site can map the area, collecting all sorts of data to help with logistics and collaboration, and generally making things more precise and expedient.
But, as we have seen in previous entries, drones can be more than just helpful. They can be used for vital inspections of things like oil rigs, oil fields and pipelines. These can be difficult to access or be too vast for humans to realistically monitor, but drones can fly to hard-to-reach places, don’t need breaks (except to recharge), and will never lose concentration. Yet again, drones could prove to be the key to preventing the kind of avoidable catastrophes that we’ve seen time and again.