Drone technology is synonymous with two things: war and photography. Yes, the word “drone” came into mainstream use after the US military started weaponizing their large military units. With the advent of multirotor camera drones, the most common real-world use most people see drones used for is as a flying camera. Most recently, delivery services can be added to the list, since companies like Amazon are starting to gear up for autonomous air deliveries of products.
The truth is that drone technology has now expanded to far more uses than those commonly known by the public. Here are four ways where drones are making big waves that are likely to influence the lives of everyone reading this today.
The Drone Farmer
Agricultural drones are quickly becoming one of the hottest drone technology development areas. The most obvious use of drones in a farming context is as an information gathering tool. Farmers can use drones to quickly check the condition of crops over large areas of land. They can also be used to monitor the movement and health of livestock. Drones can be used to inspect fences, identify the extent of weather damage and anything else that would require physical inspection.
The most exciting use of drones in agriculture has to be as crop dusters. Traditionally farmers would use small airplanes to douse their fields with chemicals which can be expensive, inefficient and has some environmental consequences.
New specialized agricultural drones like the DJI Agras MG-1 can spray crops automatically. They can make sure to give each plant the right amount and waste far less fuel and chemicals while doing so. In the case of the Agras, the drone can cover up to 10 acres in one hour!
Drones Help Survey the Situation
Surveying is an art as old as construction, but the tools of the surveyor have expanded now with more capability and sophistication. Drone technology brings together innovations from GPS-technology to machine vision and photogrammetry. It’s easier than ever to get accurate and detailed spatial information from the real world into a digital format. More government departments are now starting to accept drone-based surveying, which means lower costs and faster turnaround times.
One of the most significant ways that drone-based surveying is making things better has nothing to do with surveying and everything to do with the safety of surveyors. Land surveying is a tough, dangerous work. Now it’s often not necessary to send actual humans into dangerous places to complete complex surveys.
The Flying Robocop
Technology is having a significant impact on police work all over the world. The introduction of body cams for officers in the US is a big step in improving police accountability and serving the ends of justice. Drones are also developing into an active police tool as well.
While cities have invested in CCTV cameras and police body cams, some surveillance jobs need a different tool. Police drones promise to bring flexible intelligence gathering into the hands of law enforcement officers on the ground. Drones are especially helpful in active shooter, hostage situations, or police chase scenarios.
Drones can also be used in routine traffic stops. An officer stops a vehicle and could use a drone equipped with a camera to ascertain who is in the car and other relevant information before physically approaching the vehicle.
Take the FLIR Black Hornet as a prime example. It’s a tiny, autonomous drone helicopter that can be used to get situational awareness safely. Designed with military use in mind, its application in urban law enforcement should be obvious.
Specialized patrolling drones are also becoming a practical tool and can act as a massive force multiplier. In 2018, Louisville announced that they would use drones to respond to the sound of gunshots. An example of how smart software, such as AI-powered facial recognition, can turn drones into machines that are more than the sum of their parts.
Drones Bring Home the Lost
Drones are also a useful tool in search and rescue operations such as major traffic accidents, weather incidents, or wilderness searches for lost children or hurt hikers.
Drones with sophisticated IR cameras and other sensors can be deployed to find people over large areas, at a much lower cost and more effective height than a rescue chopper. We are also now starting to see drones that carry medical devices like defibrillators and other crucial supplies. Something that can make the difference between recovering a living person or a corpse. If you’re ever lost, hurt and cold, the sound of a drone buzzing overhead might be the sweetest one ever.
What’s Next for Drone Technology?
There is still a lot of scope for improvement when it comes to drone technology. Right now, most electric drones are limited by battery technology, which means they can’t fly for more than 30 minutes before needing a recharge. Fuel-cell drones and ones that can recharge anywhere using solar power could drastically change how useful they are.
Giving drone better sensors and bigger brains is the other key to transforming what they can do. For example, imagine a future drone that can identify and track livestock or act as a security guard and catch livestock thieves in the act. Drones and advanced artificial intelligence have already been used to prevent shark attacks, so land-based operations in a similar vein aren’t that far-fetched.
The next frontier for drones will be seeing them fly longer, think smarter, and complete much more complex tasks. One day we’ll have no idea how we lived without them.