Drones used for good
Just last night I saw a brief news story about the Federal Aviation Administration starting to consider new flight rules to adopt in consideration of flying drones that are starting to take to the skies in our country. What made this so memorable to me was the fact that I had just finished reading all about drone technology and how it is expanding from current military uses to being used commercially for farming and ranching.
It has been projected that the most useful commercial application for drones is in precision agriculture, where drones can use infrared cameras to create visuals for farmers that they can’t get from their naked eyes alone. Currently there is a prototype fixed-wing unit that weighs five pounds, has a one-hour flight time and can cover a potential maximum of 600 acres and will cost approximately $4,000. Additional benefits to farmers include being able to assess the water content of soil or identify any pest problems with agricultural drones. What this means is that, with drone technology, they will be able to decrease the effort they put into farming but maintain the output they get.
Besides military uses, drones have been used in Japan for such purposes as inspecting nuclear power plant damage, tracking wildlife and monitoring whaling ships. There is a GALE drone that was developed recently for flying into hurricanes to send data to forecasters. More exciting than these uses, MIT students are collaborating with Boeing engineers in building an iPhone app to control a drone up to 3,000 miles away, and engineers at University of Southampton built a drone with a 3D printer that assembles in minutes by hand.
The sky is the limit here. Pizzas delivered for Domino’s Pizza, small package deliveries for Amazon or Federal Express, delivering medicines and vaccines or enhancing mobile communication networks in rural or remote areas, mapping unpaved roads, understanding traffic jams and evaluating road conditions. Investigations are under way on all these uses, and parents in Vermont are currently using drones to escort their kids to school.
Picture it: Your doorbell rings and when you answer it, there’s a hovering drone that tells you it has a delivery for you. Or you order a pizza and it’s a drone at the door delivering it. Your evening 6:00 news includes live shots from a drone’s camera where there is a traffic jam on the freeway, and World Health Organization doctors send medicine into e-bola ravaged areas without endangering any medical workers.
If these ideas sound exciting to you, you can check out the new educational programs that have developed around this technology at such places as University of Nevada and University of North Dakota. Up to 100,000 jobs in upcoming years is what they are expecting in the manufacturing sector alone, although other possibilities include more military, agriculture and farming, business, and educational opportunities. How cool is that?