For many, the term “drone” seems to conjure images of military use and war weaponry. As a result, the mere thought of these futuristic flying devices tend to pose security and privacy concerns to several people. When, however, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for defense purposes and those that may one day may buzz around the skies are quite different, and in fact, may change the world — for the better. According to ex-Wired editor and 3D Robotics CEO Chris Anderson, the (AVR-powered) DIY drone community will soon have more than 15,000 drones flying, compared to some 7,000 drones in use worldwide by military forces.
Martha Stewart, known by many for her expertise in and around the home, recently shared her love for UAVs in an essay that appeared on TIME Magazine’s website on July 29th, writing that drones could be “a useful tool.” So without further ado, let’s take a look at just some of the many ways these flying apparatuses are already revolutionizing the world around us.
1. Farming is tough, and drones are making it easier. With their aerial abilities, farmers can now see if their irrigation systems are working, how their crops are growing, even see if any of the plants are sick by using infrared technology. This enables farmers to make critical decisions about where and when to fertilize, plant or water. Though these observations and improvements may only equate to cents per acre, when practiced over thousands of acres, that can translate into much greater amounts.
2. Going to Hollywood! UAVs have already been adapted by a number of film makers looking to capture more innovative shots with less limitations. Think about it, drones are enabling creators to achieve the effects that would otherwise require wires, spider cam rigs, dollies, cranes, and crane operators. “You can innovate in a number of different, interesting ways to shoot a scene [using unmanned aircraft],” Howard Gantman of the Motion Picture Association of America recently recently urged the FAA.
3. Capturing the beauties life has to offer. Given its aerial abilities, drones have been able to capture things in ways never before seen. The result? Something truly breathtaking. Take for instance, Dave Anderson. The charter captain runs whale-watching charters out of Dana Point, California. He recently used a small camera-equipped drone to capture video of a “mega-pod” of hundreds of common dolphins as well as three gray whale migrating off the coast of San Clemente. In a separate venture, the drone returned footage of a family of humpback whales off of Maui. Then, there’s Nashville entrepreneur Robert Hartline, who decided to capture the city’s 4th of July fireworks show from the air using a drone-and-camera apparatus.
4. Trying to sell your house? Drones can help. Once reserved for luxury-home listings, aerial photos and videos are popping up in ads for moderately priced places, thanks to the use of relatively inexpensive drones — a method that grown incredibly popular throughout California, where the hills, beaches, water and vineyards can enhance even the most mundane home. Move over still photos and open houses, the next real estate listing may be accompanied by a drone tour.
5. Weaving high-rise structures: A team of researchers at ETH Zurich recently programmed drones to build and weave high-rise structures. While the test was relatively simple, the idea of choreographing drones to act as aerial construction workers is pretty fascinating. In spider-like fashion, the drone spools cable behind it as it zips between supports. It is weaving a structure high above where ordinary building equipment can easily reach. The team is also teaching drones to build towers from foam bricks. “There is no physical connection with the ground, so they can move construction elements to any location, and fly in and around existing structures,” explained Federico Augugliaro of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich.
6. Covering the news. When it comes to reporting, there’s nothing more important than catching the action as it happens. In what may become the next trend in journalism, students across the country are already learning how drones could help them be better reporters, and some reporters have already begun using UAVs to capture the day’s news.
7. Putting out wildfires. Drones are becoming an incredibly useful tool for firefighters, especially those who have the seemingly impossible task of putting out wildfires. Not only are the aircrafts being used to spot the fire and tracking its movement, but they can actually fight fires as well, ultimately keeping people out of harm’s way. Take for instance 2007′s Southern California wildfires, UAVs equipped with infrared sensors penetrated walls of smoke to relay information about the size of the blaze. After Haiti’s devastating earthquake in 2010, the Air Force dispatched its “Global Hawk” drone to map the damage in Port-Au-Prince so NGOs could establish target areas for their relief work. And even more recently, drones were deployed after Super Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines. Unlike helicopters, which can take up to an hour to arrive on the scene and gather information, drones are operational within three minutes.
8. Preventing endangered species. Tracking endangered is not an easy feat; however, with its unparalleled aerial abilities, drones may become the next tool in preventing poaching. Take for instance the team of Indonesian scientists, who have been using drones to keep track of a population of endangered Sumatran orangutans by floating above the treetops and watching how the apes are dealing with deforestation.
9. Saving the world. From authorities potting environmental violations to the EPA testing air quality, a wide range of scientists are using drones to keep tabs of the environment. NASA is even using drones to test the makeup of the ozone. Drones used for environmental monitoring is already the topic of many an academic paper, and the trend is only supposed to get more popular. Even in Italy, drones have been used to monitor illegal dumping for years.
10. Saving lives, too. A graduate student from Austria recently took life-saving equipment to the next level. Stefen Riegebauer devised a system whereby drones could deliver defibrillators to heart attack victims much faster than it would take an ambulance to get there. UAVs can prove to be an asset in time-critical situations, such as ski patrollers using beacons on small drones to search for buried avalanche victims.
11. Helping in disaster relief. “Drones don’t just end human life, they also save it,” tech journalist Matthew Harwood previously told Security Management Magazine. As extreme weather becomes increasingly severe, technology will play a critical role in monitoring and response and the Air Force, NASA, and several NGOs all agree that drones are becoming indispensable in disaster relief operations. Natural disasters and other times of emergency call for timely distribution of medication and aid. Fortunately, drones can make this more efficient. A company called Matternet is using drones to drop food and drugs right where they’re needed in remote African villages. Drones have the ability to ensure access to basic needs in places where roads become impassable in rainy seasons, or where they might not exist at all.
12. Getting into the sports action. Not only is it entertaining to watch games from above, it also can provide coaches a unique and valuable perspective on how their players are doing. Sports teams are already doing just that, using the UAVs to develop everything from game strategy to analyzing athlete performance. Drones have even made an appearance at the Olympics, where they were used to film ski and snowboarding events in Sochi.
13. Fighting crime in the neighborhood. Police departments across the country are buying drones that they can use for surveillance and other protection-related activities. Even the FBI is using them.
14. Inspecting oil rigs. Offshore oil rigs are notoriously tough to maintain, which as we know can be potentially dangerous. Given their ability to fly into hard-to-reach places, UAVs are able to better monitor oil fields and pipelines, which can be vast and tough for a human to track.
15. Creating art. Graffiti artist KATSU recently devised abstract paintings using drones with spray cans.
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17. Delivering pizza: Domino’s Pizza recently turned some heads and opened up some eyes when they posted a video of a drone delivering a pizza. The idea was that drones could get the pizza to your house faster so it would be hotter and more delicious.
18. Delivering other things, too. The easiest way to order the shopping is to simply load up a shopping app for next-day delivery, but drones mean you could end up having items the same day. That brings us back to Amazon and its plan to deliver your purchases with drones. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos says, “It will work and it will happen, and it’s gonna be a lot of fun.” UPS followed suit this week and revealed that they, too, were working on a drone delivery system. Will it work? China has already gotten into the drone-delivery game with Shenzhen-based courier service, SF Express.
So, as you can see, as drones continue to become more affordable, accessible and easier to use, we can expect a future that’ll be both autonomous and airborne.