Unmanned aerial vehicles or drones have crossed the parameters of military application. The commercialisation of drone technology has resulted in better accessibility while also stirring novel applications that are practical and helpful. Through drones, individuals and organisations are capitalising on technology to accomplish tasks more effectively and efficiently.
Here are the 4 practical and helpful uses for drone technology:
1. Humanitarian and relief operations using drone
Reaching conflict-ridden or disaster-struck communities remains a challenge of humanitarian aid workers and emergency response teams. Some areas are too dangerous to enter because of existing armed conflicts. Others are inaccessible due to geographical and physical obstructions.
Controlling a drone from a distant location and flying it over a particular community to provide relief is certainly a good idea. Several organisations have considered exploiting drone technologies for this particular purpose.
Architectural firm Foster + Partners and non-profit Norman Foster Foundation are planning to build an airport for drone in Rwanda—this will be the first drone airport in the world if the plan pushes through. Rural areas in this East African country has been in constant need of medical supplies but because it is landlocked, transportation has become a burden rather than a solution.
The Rwandan government through its local Civil Aviation Authority is drafting regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles. Officials hope that the regulation will be good to go by 2016. This means that the country want to take advantage of drone to improve the accessibility of rural areas.
There is also an attempt to use drones to help people caught in the middle of armed conflicts in the war-torn Syria. The Syrian Airlift Project is developing a practical use for drone technology to end starvation and medical deprivation as weapons of war.
Further details of the proposed Droneport Project of Foster + Partners and Norman Foster Foundation are published in a 2015 press release. Further details about The Syrian Airlift Project are accessible from its official website.
2. Drones and cost-efficiency in filmmaking
Aerial shots would normally require expensive helicopters or cranes that can only be afforded by big shot Hollywood producers. Drones however provide a cheaper alternative. Small production houses and amateur filmmakers are using this technology to stretch their creativity and capability beyond the limit.
Hollywood players are also using drone to effective cut down their production cost. The sci-fi film Chappie directed by South African Neil Blomkamp used drones to film several action shots.
The popularity of drones in filmmaking has however raised concerns regarding safety and security. Ellen Gamerman of The Wall Street Journal reported the evolving policy and regulatory stance of the Federal Aviation Authority regarding the use of this technology for profit-oriented activities. After all, drones have enabled filmmakers to play with new styles and techniques concerning aerial cinematograph that are unprecedented and inexpensive.
There is even the Flying Robot International Film Festival organised by Eddie Codel, a pioneer in drone videography. The festival is an open competition focusing on aerial cinema and capitalising on drones. This is the first international film festival that pays tribute to the emerging subfield of unmanned filmmaking.
Further details of the report of Gamerman are in the article “Drones invade Hollywood” published in 2015 by The Wall Street Journal. Further details of the Flying Robots International Film Festival are accessible from its official website.
3. Improving agriculture and output through drones
Drones can cover expansive tracks of ands and perform tasks efficiently minus the need for heavy machineries or numerous human interactions. This is why one of the emerging practical and helpful uses for drone technology concerns modern agriculture.
Several companies have offered drone services for the agricultural industry. The research company PrecisionHawk for example offers drones to help farmers survey their fields. Their services are capable of generating a three-dimensional map of the subject terrain, analysis of crop health and maturity based on plan height and number of yield, weed detection, and season monitoring, among others.
Relatively cheap drones or accessible drone-centric services with advanced sensors and imaging capabilities are certainly giving farmers new opportunities to increase yields and lessen crop damage.
According to an article published by the MIT Technology Review, aerial shots from drones can reveal patterns that could indicate irrigation problems, soil variations, and pest or fungal infestations. Drones equipped with multispectral sensors can also highlight differences between healthy and distressed plants. The ability of a drone to cover large track of lands within a short period can make surveying or monitoring more efficient.
The use of drones in agriculture nonetheless supports the concept of precision agriculture—a farming management concept based on observing, measuring, and responding to inter and intra-field variability in crops.
Further details of the MIT Technology Review report are in the article “Agricultural Drones” published in 2015 and authored by Chris Anderson.
4. Using drones to observe and study dangerous natural phenomenon
Engineering students at Oklahoma State University are working to develop drones that are sturdy enough to fly into dangerous storms to observe and collect data.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA has used drones to study the weather. For example, Hurricane and Severe Storm Sentinel or HS3 has been studying storms from above. It is able to approach hurricanes closer than any pilot aircraft could ever safely attempt.
The HS3 is part of the five-year HS3 Hurricane Mission specifically designed to investigate the processes that underlie hurricane formation and intensity change in the Atlantic Ocean basin. HS3 is motivated by hypotheses related to the relative roles of the large-scale environment and storm-scale internal processes.
Other scientists have also been using drones to study other natural phenomenon or to survey geological features. Some have used this technology to capture images and video footages of volcanic explosions. Others have use this to survey lands as part of oil exploration.
Researchers are continuously developing sturdy drones that can brave active volcano. A report by Kelly Dickerson of Tech Insider mentioned that another practical use for drone technology includes recording and broadcasting videos, towing in shovels to scoop up rock samples, and capture smog for analysis. These data and information can help volcanologists predict when a volcano will erupt, where the lava will flow, and when or how to evacuate people.
Further details of the HS3 Hurricane Mission are available from the dedicated webpage deployed and maintained by NASA and the US government. Details of the report of Dickerson are in the article “Drone are unlocking the secrets of volcanoes” published in 2015 by Tech Insider.