Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) used to be exclusive to military. Today, they are widely available to anyone who can afford them and follows certain usage rules. Uses of drones are not only commercial or for entertainment, as you might have thought. They serve numerous important purposes, from agriculture to medical supply delivery. Some might be unexpected, nonetheless, all are exciting!
1. Medical Supply Delivery
Zipline International, an American startup, recently announced their collaboration with the government of Rwanda to help deliver medical supplies. The country suffers from widespread poverty and multiple cases of HIV, TB and malaria. The idea is to use unmanned vehicles to equip hospitals and clinics with medications. Rwanda’s landscape poses many difficulties for conventional transport and delivery. But for drones hills and difficult roads are not an issue. To start it up, 15 drones will fly above Rwanda and the number will get higher next year. 22-pound drones will be able to deliver supplies of up to 3pounds per drone within minutes from order. Journey as long as 75 miles per single battery charge and use of GPS and data network means that the process would be efficient and quick. Upon reaching the destination, cardboard box will be released with an attached parachute to land safely. Other companies are also working on similar projects at the moment.
2. Uses of drones in agriculture
Farmers can now monitor their crops much more easily and efficiently. Drones help reduce loss of crops and control irrigation of fields. This solution is relatively cheap and has great benefits for agriculture. This is all thanks to a built-in autopilot, GPS and camera for easy operation and observation of land. More sophisticated options include chlorophyll level monitoring using infrared light. Altogether, surveillance using drones provides great insight into crops, its health, changes over time and greatly helps improve farming.
3. Inspection of infrastructure
Small UAVs serve to inspect infrastructure, such as pipelines, bridges, wind turbines and mines. This technology is a faster way to conduct inspections. In the past, examining the infrastructure was done mostly from the ground. Helicopters and other equipment to observe it from the sky was simply too expensive. Nowadays, a bridge inspection that used to take 8 hours and heavy equipment operated by a team of four, can be done not only at a lower cost but also in quarter of that time and with only 2 people.
4. Uses of drones in construction
UAVs can be very helpful on construction sites. Tasks that they can help with include site inspection, access to hazard areas and faster fulfilment of bigger sites inspection in general. Other uses of drones include assessment of material handling equipment, such as huge cranes. This also minimises the hazard of injuries of personnel making inspections on great heights. Wide-angle panoramas improve site visibility and allow for fast assessment and reaction in cases of danger. In the future, drones could help with thermal imaging, such as to control behaviour of concrete and other building materials.
5. Wildlife: monitoring populations and their movements
Protecting the wildlife is of great importance and interest. Drones monitor population sizes, their movement and so help keep track of animals. They can also help localise poachers before they make the damage and prevent their actions. However, there are concerns that UAVs may disturb animals in the wild. One of the examples is increased heart rate of bears in presence of drones, but it’s not clear whether they have additional negative impact on these animals. One possibility is that the levels of stress will become too high and thus problematic. But hopefully, like with many other human inventions, animals will also become accustomed to drones with no harmful effects. Nevertheless, it’s important to follow certain rules and keep track of animal response.
6. Crime Scene Investigation
UAVs are becoming more popular at crime scenes as well. They reduce time needed to collect documentations of accident sites. For example, Ontario Police use drones to document the scene and it is much faster than when done manually. They use drones that are easily operated by a trained pilot who directs them to specific locations. Images combination in 3D allows for an in-depth insight into the scene. Drones that can come close to where it would be dangerous for a person to approach, can help with hostage situations. Michigan State Police also use drones and their first action with this technology was to assess a suspected arson.
7. Traffic Management by NASA
This application is still in a research phase, but NASA recently reported successful test using 22 drones at once. Goal of the operation was to evaluate NASA’s air traffic management platform with the use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS). Criteria used to determine success of the test was doing 16 operations at a time. Additionally, the use of virtual aircrafts helped with further assessment. In order to perform the operations, engineers had to carefully observe weather conditions and other possible noises that would make the tests impossible. Luckily, everything went according to plan and missions in all locations were successful. Favourable outcome brought useful data and the research continues to incorporate use of drones for NASA’s work.