Posted July 22, 2015 by Casey McCallister

Drones have been in the news a lot lately. From halting firefighting efforts to a gun-firing drone, the new buzzword of the headlines has been mostly negative. It is, however, also important to mention all of the great things that unmanned aerial vehicles have brought to our world.

1. Poaching Prevention

Rhinos and elephants in Africa are in more danger than ever before. There were 1,293 rhinos poached in 2014 compared to only 62 in 2007. One single rhino horn can go for $250,000 on the black market.
New innovations in drone usage have been highly successful in slowing down and preventing poaching in areas of Africa. They are flown at night and use cameras that detect the heat given off by humans. Rangers are near drone’s flight path, ready to respond once poachers are discovered.

Drones have been deployed on a trial basis in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa since 2012. The result has been a 65 percent reduction in rhino poaching.

2. Agriculture

With the drought in full swing in California, farmers are using drones to measure crop density, growth and many other factors that can help save water and lead to stronger crops. Drones are able to detect things that cannot be seen from traditional views on the ground. This can give farmers new information more quickly or with less manpower than before.

One case study: Drink Wines, a California vineyards is using drone photography to discover sections of vine that are ripening sooner than expected, leading to earlier harvests.

3. Lifeguarding

In Chile, drones are being used to assist lifeguards in saving drowning swimmers at popular beaches .

The drones are piloted from the beach and come attached with a float, camera, microphone, and speaker. Drones can fly to the victim 7 times vaster than a life guard. Once there, they can drop a life preserver so the person can hang on until help arrives.

These flights are also turning up unexpected results like the presence of nearby sharks. This information leads to posting signs on shore alerting beach goers to potential danger.

4. Disaster Relief

Drones have played a big part in the disaster relief efforts of the recent Nepal earthquake. The unmanned vehicles are tasked with surveying the crisis-affected areas, creating maps and visuals to relay to medical technicians on the ground. While people have to deal with stormy weather and many impassable roads, the drones are a great tool to help this shortage of manpower by providing assistance to those in need.

5. Journalism

This is most certainly a controversial use for drones, but like it or not, these aerial images can provide coverage where it may be unsafe or a hindrance for humans to be in an area.

While there are new laws on the way for how drones can be used in journalism, for now the airspace is open for coverage.

6. Sports Photography

It was inevitable that drones would be used in sports coverage. The Sochi winter Olympics used them and most recently, the U.S. Open used drones for aerial footage of the course. The drones are cheaper and quieter than helicopters and can easily be put into spaces that have never been accessed before. While falling cameras could still happen, I would rather put my trust into something that could safely be piloted out of the way, than cameras hung from cables. Battery life is really the biggest limitation into drones catching on, but it’s certain that the next few years will be fun to watch in the world of live sports.

7. Wildlife Monitoring

Traditionally, scientists have used helicopters and airplanes to monitor wildlife. Drones have found a place in their research as they are less costly, more efficient, and more precise than traditional approaches. These drones can also carry data-collecting equipment in addition to their cameras, allowing scientists to save on man power.

8. Building Structures

Robotics have long had a place in building architectural structures, but drones are just now beginning to find a place here as well. In the future, drones might be used to collaborate in building actual structures. Today, lots of time is wasted modeling structures – particularly in 3D. Architects then translate those into drawings 2D plans which are then interpreted by the builder where all of the 3D spatial information is lost. Drones could allow builders to connect the two, speeding up the building process.

9. Environmental Research

Drones can be used for monitoring air pollution, land surveying, heat mapping, water sampling, and more. Conservationists have even used the drones for discovering illegal logging in parts of Indonesia.

10. Package Delivery?

After Amazon’s April Fools joke, it’s fun to spoof the idea of drone delivery. See the Burrito Bomber and the Tacocopter,…but the reality is that drone delivery might not be too far away. Despite limitations of distance and weight, recently the first drone delivery took place in the U.S. and a Chinese company has begun early developments of making the service into a reality.

(Header photo by SFU Drone.)

About Casey McCallister

I am an adventure and outdoor lifestyle photographer from San Francisco and the growth hacker at SmartShoot. I enjoy traveling and spending time in nature.

Keep in touch: @caseymac

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