10 Non-Aggressive Uses of Drones

Sophie Collings

10 Non-Aggressive Uses of Drones


The proposed drone regulations published this week by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) restricting flying rights for commercial drones, has put multinational corporations such as Amazon at the forefront of the great drone debate in the USA. The drone craze is at the cusp of taking off in the United States, with much controversy but also great anticipation.


Drones and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) were first brought to American attention when the U.S. conducted its first drone strike in Yemen in 2002. Since then, drone strikes in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia have been heavily publicized as part of  counter-terrorism campaigns under both President Obama’s administrator and President Bush’s. As a result, drones have been greatly associated with aggression, conflict and terrorism. The recent crashing of a drone in to the White House lawn has further fueled debate and uncertainty, with fears over privacy, surveillance and public safety a fundamental concern among the general public. The Consumer Electronics Association’s predicts that domestic drone sales this year will increase by 55%, compared to 2014. This  figure has left many people alarmed and confused. What use could a drone be to a typical American?  With an increase in drone use across the country, an increase in public debate, and a fundamental lack of information surrounding the uses of UAVs, there is an unequivocal need to provide scope of the uses of drones. Here are 10 examples of proposed and current drone uses worldwide. By providing an insight in to the varying types of drones and how they are used around the globe, people can gain a wider understanding of the phenomena in which to make an informed judgement.

1. Natural Disaster Response –Haiti and PhilippinesAn official of the Center for Research and Technology Volcanoes Development (BPPTK) releases a drone quadcopter to monitor activity from the Mount Sinabung volcano at Sibintun village in Karo district

Drones are especially beneficial in emergency situations as they are able to fly into dangerous environments and provide invaluable information to NGOs and response teams. People on the ground are provided with a real-time view of an area which includes live night footage and through the use of infrared cameras, survivors can be located and help deployed to their exact location. Thermal imaging cameras that are used to see through smoke are particularly useful in volcanic eruptions and earthquake induced explosions. Drones were used to collect data to aid disaster relief in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. The Air Force dispatched its “Global Hawk” drone to provide geospatial data of the damage in Port-Au-Prince to relief organizations. Similar drones were also used in the Philippines in 2013 to collect damage data on the region after it was hit by Super Typhoon Haiyan.

  2. Global Climate Change Reduction – Amazon Rainforest

JapanErdoBioCarbon Engineering, a company in Oxford, United Kingdom, has developed drone technology to tackle global climate change. The company aims to use drones in order to upscale reforestation, planting billions of trees a year using ‘Precision Forestry” in the Amazon. The drones will provide detailed geospatial information to aid in planning and management, generating site specific terrain data, topography information and soil types to produce 3D maps of the areas, outline landscape design and planning patterns to implement. BioCarbon Engineering believe that by using drones to then plant seeds, they could increase plantation rates from 3,000 by human planters to 36,000 a day.

3. Space Research – MarsMars

At the California institute of technology, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing a drone that will be used to collect vital information on Mars. The solar-powered drone will be able to provide views of Mars that would otherwise be impossible to see, giving researchers a much more detailed insight into the terrain and physical environment of the red planet.

 4. Extreme Weather Research – Florida

drone hurricaneResearchers at the University of Florida send drones into storms to collect data on temperature, humidity and pressure. Providing invaluable information of large storms that would previously be impossible to gain. There has also been collaborations between the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, Northrop Grumman and NASA to utilize drones to aid research into the atmosphere and oceans to uncover meteorological secrets critical to improving weather forecasts. Drones can be used to collect information data in remote areas where data is scarce and in the atmosphere’s most difficult to reach zones.  The data received can then be integrated into prediction models, improving resolution and reliability of extreme weather predictions.

 5. Wildlife Conservation – Namibia, Sumatra, Germanyrhino

With hopes of reducing poaching of rhinos in Africa, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) have collaborated with Google with plans to launch surveillance drones in the skies of Namibia.  High resolution night and day vision cameras will be flown near waterholes and places where wildlife gather to send real-time footage to surveillance teams on  the ground.

orangutanDrones are also used by researchers in Indonesia to study the endangered Sumatran Orangutan from above. The views drones provide from above the tree tops supply invaluable information that can help inform future conservation. Drone technology is also being piloted in Germany in hope to protect the 100,000 young deer killed annually by industrial combine harvesters. The small aerial drones use infrared and digital sensors that can locate deer in long grass and inform farmers prior to cutting.

6. Precision Agriculture – Japanunnamed

Drones are used in precision agriculture to identify areas that need water, fertilizer and spray and deliver what is required to the exact location identified. Drone use in agriculture however is not a recent phenomena, unmanned helicopters have been used in Japan for over 20 years. The Ministry of agriculture in Japan promoted their use and thus 40% of rice crops in Japan are sprayed by UAVs. Cameras can also spot low levels of nitrogen among crops, allowing farmers to view growth rates.  And through infrared cameras, photosynthesis efficiency van be observed, giving farmers an unprecedented opportunity to monitor their plant health.

7. Reducing Water Contamination – Ottawa

JapanThe authorities patrolling the beaches of Petrie Island Ottawa, have developed a strategy to deter geese using drones. Geese contaminate water with their droppings which consequently feeds and spreads the bacteria E.coli, which can be harmful to swimmers. Through the use of UAVs with custom lights and sounds, geese are successfully moved away from the water thereby reducing contamination.

 8. Search and Rescue  – Canadaalpsdrone

High resolution camera equipped search and rescue drones are used to locate injured individuals in remote areas. Using video technology, search and rescue teams can also survey extensive terrain much more cheaply than using manned helicopter operations. In May 2013, a search and rescue operation utilizing such drones successfully located an injured man in Saskatchewan, Canada and have since continued in successfully aiding search and rescue missions.

9. Life Saving – Netherlands

1414540757343_wps_24_epa04466923_a_woman_givesA graduate from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, has presented a potentially life saving drone, named the Ambulance drone. The UAV is aimed to locate and fly directly to a patient at over 4 miles per minute, equipped with a built-in defibrillator. Similar technology is currently being developed at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology in Massachusetts whereby vaccines will be deployed to remote areas by the press of a button on a cell phone.

10. Law enforcement –  North Dakotapolicedrone-1

Grand Forks Police Department in North Dakota use drones to enforce the law and pursue criminals. The drones are specifically fitted with a real-time camera, thermal imagery and sensors to aid in law enforcement. Drones have been utilized in various situations including locating missing persons, providing useful intelligence of a crime scene by being flown overhead to take digital photographs and locating two suspected criminals who had escaped from a local jail. Drones can also be beneficial to aid with bomb threats, hostage situations and armed criminal pursuits.

Drones are extremely versatile devices that have an array of astounding functions.  By showing the huge scope of their capability and some alternative uses that are not so readily publicized, people can gain a more rounded understanding of UAVs, and how the increase of drone use in the U.S. can impact their life, whether positively or negatively.

(Sophie Collings, 2/19/15)


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