Sometimes it seems like the only attention drones get is negative. Many people are scared — or at least wary — of new technology that has such incredible potential across almost every industry. That seems wrong, considering the huge amount of good they're capable of.
And it really doesn't take much digging to find ways that drones are already being used in incredible and beneficial ways. Check out the Twitter hashtag #dronesforgood for some good examples — or just keep reading!
1. Humanitarian causes
This is an area where drones have a wide range of applications.
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In Rwanda, they're being used to transport blood and other medical supplies to hospitals in remote locations, reducing wait times dramatically. The drones, which were developed by US startup Zipline, have an operational range of 150km.
A San Francisco lab has come up with a "paper airplane" drone for a similar purpose — carrying blood and vaccines to those who need them. They made of mycelium, an inexpensive material that is degradable within days. The idea here is a little bit different than the Zipline concept. Here's how Mashable explains it:
An aircraft lifts an APSARA glider into the air and transports it to a planned location. Factoring in wind and other data, it then drops the paper drone so it glides down in a spiral motion, hitting a pre-set GPS spot within a 33-foot radius.
People can then unpack the supplies, and the paper airplane will disappear after time due to its mycelium frame, which is a flexible, cellulose-based material. That ensures these kinds of humanitarian missions wouldn't leave the ground littered with cardboard.
Beyond delivering medical supplies, UAVs were also used after natural disasters struck in the Philippines in 2013 and Haiti in 2012. more recently, they took to the skies to assist with floods in the Balkans and earthquakes in China.
2. Search and rescue and emergency operations
3. Forest conservation
So far, this is just being tested, but it sure looks cool. Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln have spent the past couple of years developing a drone that drops a ball containing potassium permanganate powder and liquid glycerol. When it lands, it ignites in flame.
What purpose does this have besides being really cool? Controlled burns are a big part of conservation in areas that are inclined towards flammable trees and grasslands that can grow out of control. They also come in handy in stopping invasive species.
Drones offer a safe, easy way to start and control these fires.
4. Animal research
When the job is to collect spray from the blowholes of humpback whales, a helicopter is too loud and expensive, an airplane lacks maneuverability, and doing it by hand is just a little bit too dangerous. But the job is perfectly suited for a drone.
That's why they're being used to collect samples of "whale snot." What's so great about whale snot? Researchers are able to analyze it, and it provides valuable information on the respiratory tract of a living whale. The collected substance essentially shows scientists what a healthy whale looks like.
Another animal research project drones are lending a hand with is seal counting.
An academic article was published in Scientific Reports this month that illustrates just how useful drones can be for research and data collection.
The paper describes how a team of scientists from Duke University flew a fixed wing UAV, equipped with thermal sensors, to image two grey seal breeding colonies in eastern Canada. A human team analyzed and counted the seals that were photographed, while an automated computer system did the same.
The automated results fell within 95 to 98% of the humans' count. And where there was a discrepancy, it was due largely to human error.
The results show that the algorithm used to automatically sort wildlife populations is effective.
5. Anti-poaching efforts
Last but not least, drones are being used to protect endangered animals from poachers.
Particularly elephants and rhinos on the African continent, which fetch high prices on the illegal wildlife trade industry. Drones can cover a lot more land than a traditional park ranger, and are equipped with eagle eyes that can record and report what they see to their human counterparts.