The Ways Drone Technology is Changing the World
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are an ever-increasing sight on the landscape of our twenty-first century planet. Unmanned aircraft has been developed by militaries over the course of the twentieth century, but it is only in the last few decades that they have started to have wider spanning applications. To many of us, these may feel like the futuristic visions of our childhood, but they are also a new technology that has only just begun.
In the current age, technology is the driver of productivity and the key to success. Small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) are best advised to employ IT companies with vast knowledge and experience, as that will ensure technological challenges will be avoided and the company’s core focus can come first.
Amazon has talked about the potential of drone delivery as far back as 2013. The company also successfully tested a delivery by drone in Cambridge, England, in 2016. In the same year the company announced Prime Air, and in 2019 unveiled a new drone design with advanced capabilities. Amazon has promised that Prime Air is ‘coming soon’, but it has yet to deliver.
The limitations for Amazon and other companies have been the government regulations that prevent a drone traveling beyond the ‘line of sight’ for the drone pilot. This rule would make most deliveries impossible. However, as the technology improves and safety concerns have lessened, authorities have slowly been easing the restrictions for commercial drone delivery.
UPS has recently been given permission by the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to fly drones on university, hospital and corporate campuses without restrictions. Other delivery companies are also in the process of testing or applying for licenses.
Drones can have an excellent application to the transport of medical supplies that need to be received on an urgent basis. This has been put to use in WakeMed Hospital in Raleigh, North Carolina, where blood samples and other medical supplies need to be transported across the campus. The adoption of drones has cut a journey of an average 45 minutes by road to just 10 minutes. This is one of the first places in the US where drones have been given permission to travel beyond the pilot’s line of sight.
In another project in the US, FedEx has partnered with Walgreens Pharmacy and Wing Aviation on a pilot scheme for the on-demand, drone delivery of medical supplies. This has been carried out in Christiansburg, Virginia.
Zipline is an American company that operates in Rwanda and Ghana, using drones to deliver emergency medical supplies, such as blood samples. Otherlab, a San Francisco research and development laboratory, created the APSARA Glider, a biodegradable plane that can take medical supplies to where they are needed.
Drones are also especially useful in the time of natural disaster. The technology is able to locate victims, assess damage, deliver emergency supplies, and even go some way to preventing the disaster. Drones were used to make surveys and assist rescue teams in Hurricane Harvey of 2017. They have also been used to monitor forest fires and alert response teams after fires started. This field is growing, and governments are receiving more requests for drones to deliver food and water in times of disaster.
The productivity of farming can be improved with the use of precision agriculture, an approach to increasing crop yields while lessening the need for resources like water, herbicide, insecticide and fertiliser. Aerial photography can help in making surveys of agricultural properties, and drones can also help farmers by finding mechanical errors in equipment, carrying out soil and irrigation sampling, and managing pesticide and herbicides. Investment in sensors, software and aerial data has already been made by large companies like John Deere, DuPont, Bayer, Dow and Monsanto.
The ocean covers two thirds of the earth’s surface yet much of it remains a mystery. Around 85 percent of the ocean is unexplored and unmapped, but it is the source of more than half of our oxygen and 97 percent of our water. We still have much to learn about the ocean, and drones have the potential to help us in doing so. Surface data and wave patterns can be captured by high resolution images captured by drones, and large areas can be covered.
This data is important for mining industries, such as oil and gas. It means companies are better able to plan offshore exploration, conduct drilling, respond to oil spills and help in emergency operations.
Unfortunately, the world has many challenges to overcome in conservation. The poaching of endangered species is a serious issue, and species are going extinct every year in the thousands. To fight this, drones and geospatial imagery are used to monitor and follow animals. An autonomous drone being developed by Liverpool John Moores University is aimed at tracking animals and sending information back to researchers. Drones are also used to collect samples, such as the mucus of whales, which is collected by Ocean Alliance.
Scientists and meteorologists are working on ways to predict how weather systems will change, and new hardware and software for data collection can help in this. Drones offer a useful alternative to gathering data from weather stations or geospatial imagery. Saildrone is a water-based, unmanned surface vehicle (USV) that collects data from the ocean’s surface. A project is currently being piloted with Saildrone and the University of Washington off the coast of California, in the hope of better predicting weather forecasts.
UAVs are still in the development stages, with projects that are being tested and government restrictions that are becoming more lenient. At this stage, there is a lot of potential for drone applications that have yet to be realised. Almost every industry will find at least one use for the technology. In the new decade, drones are likely to become an everyday feature and an indispensable tool. And for once, the sky really is the limit.