Drones for Good

droneAt Expo 2015 in Milan I spotted some examples of drones being used in ingenious ways, as a navigation aid in a sand dune environment for example, connected to a four wheel vehicle with its very own built-in “drone helipad”.

So far my exposure to drones has either been the militaristic  or the artistic sort. I started to wonder about other uses, commercial uses, and not the hyped up “Amazon will deliver to your fourth floor apartment window”. So I did some research. Here are some of the coolest uses I found.

Agriculture

droneagNicknamed “precision agriculture”, drones are giving farmers better data and more detail on their crops. Enabling them to target any treatment, and follow a crop’s progress.

I saw a couple of examples of drone use for agriculture at the EXPO, at the Kazakhstan pavilion where they were using drones to target insecticide and fertiliser use.

The Dutch pavilion also showed a pair of potato farmers who use drones to  assess areas that need more seeding, watering or fertilising.

A great way to save costs, but also to reduce the chemical run off to waterways, agricultural use is seen by some as the biggest potential market for drones.

Inspecting Oil Rigs

Oil rigs and wind farms sit out at sea in tough operating conditions and need regular inspection. Using drones has taken the inspection time from 8 weeks down to 5 days, a massive saving of operational costs.

Real Estate

Drone photography and video is seen as a great potential marketing tool in the Real Estate industry – but it’s subject to various regulation in most countries. In the UK and Australia commercial drone operator permits are possible, but in the US the FAA is banning commercial use of drones, although they might be fighting a losing battle.

A second potential use is for monitoring real estate development projects, a site visit from the ground as it were.

Movies

Drones are used for creating sweeping views in advertising, TV documentaries, and movies.

It means that some of those shots once out of scope for those on a limited budget are now possible. Good news for indie film makers, not so good for helicopter pilots.

Events

Pretty sure you couldn’t make the high level shots in the Rockin1000 without drones (now someone will tell me it’s a camera on a super boom).

Burning http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_28682001/drones-improving-oil-rig-inspectionMan now issues permits for drone use at the event and limits the number to thirty. It’s also produced a guideline on drone use to address safety concerns.

Less commercial but still interesting developments are uses of drains for humanitarian aid and wildlife research.

Humanitarian

Drones have been used as tools for disaster relief in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake on a scale unseen before. In part because the technology has matured, and partly because the country already had transport issues reaching its isolated villages. Combined with crowd-sourced work from volunteers around the world, the drone images are helping researchers document damage and prioritise rescue efforts.

Amazon and Domino’s both had PR wins out of trialling drones for delivery but there could be a sensible application; delivering medicine to isolated areas. Medicines are high value yet small, and so could be worth the investment. A Gates Foundation funded team are working on this, and Deutschepost DHL have apparently been testing it as a means of delivering to an isolated island.

Wildlife Research

While researching for this post the video below turned up all over social media. It’s a view of whales that is taken from the air, and obviously doesn’t disturb them in their habitat. And for anyone worrying about the dude on the paddle board, these are Southern Right Whales, baleen feeders. Of course they could still wipe him off the board with a flick of the tail.

The whale video is more opportunistic observation, but scientist have also been using drones to research wildlife in more inaccessible areas, for example monitoring orangutan populations in Indonesia.

It’s not a new idea, WWF Nepal began using drones to monitor the endangered one-horned rhinoceros and tigers more than three years ago.

Future Uses

I’ve seen a few documentaries recently that have used camera techniques and helicopters to increase the understanding of ancient structures like Angkor Wat and Stonehenge. Surely there’s a role for drones here.

There is also space for “drones as a service” companies, offering drone + operator for a single use, in fact a number of drone start-ups are already developing companies to cash in on this concept.

Some predictions suggest that the next big use of drones will be as Christmas presents, I do get the appeal – another toy to play with, even though some people don’t seem to understand when it might not be a good idea to play with the toy. The genie is out of the bottle on drones, and countries/authorities need to find ways to regulate and licence drone pilots for responsible use. After all, we all need a licence to drive a car.

Image: Drone and Moon (cropped) | Don McCullogh | CC BY 2.0

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