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Drones At Home: 10 Peaceful Uses For Unmanned Fliers - UrtheCast Blog

Theras A. Gordon Wood ‐ Company

Drones At Home: 10 Peaceful Uses For Unmanned Fliers

As cool as unmanned aircraft are, the idea of small drones taking freely to our skies can make many shift in their seats. But the integration of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) into our airspace doesn’t necessarily need to be a scary thing. With enough regulations in place to maximize safety and minimize fear, there’s much to gain from these unmanned fliers. 

[MORE: Drones At Home: Why We’d Better Get Used To Them]

Not only are there peaceful ends to be met — there’s money to be had.

The Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVS) recently reported that within the first three years of drone system integration, more than 70,000 jobs could be created in the U.S. alone. That amount, says the association, is worth a $13.6 billion injection into the economy. On a longer scale, the association reports 100,000 jobs by 2025, with $82 billion pumped into the economy.

Image: NASA Global Hawk drone. Credit: NASA

The accuracy of the projections aside, there are still numerous economic benefits to consider, with drones being instrumental in everything from future construction projects to the tracking of wildlife poachers:

10 Peaceful Uses For Unmanned Fliers

1. Disaster Relief

Unmanned aerial vehicles will soon be deployed by health care workers, controlled with cell phones, to deliver vaccines or to find survivors stranded in dangerous areas. Developed by the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology, the system has big potential for spin-off into other types of search and rescue missions.

To accomplish early-stage research into this novel use of drone technology, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation handed out over a hundred $100,000 Grand Challenges Explorations grants.

2. Environmental Monitoring

Gathering data about tropical storms and their potential to become hurricanes is one important task aided by the NASA Global Hawk, a drone designed to fly “high-altitude, long-endurance environmental science flights.” NASA has operated two unmanned Global Hawks, like this No. 871 that can fly for about 30 hours (depending on the weather it encounters and the size of its payload, which can be as high as 1,900 lbs).

The Hawk can reach altitudes of 65,000 feet, and can travel as fast as 345 knots. It weighs approximately 25,600 pounds, which is quite large when you consider that the average Boeing 737 weighs just over 90,000 lbs (empty).

But what does an environmental science drone bring to environmental monitoring that other tools don’t?

Says the NASA site:

“The ability of the Global Hawk to autonomously fly long distances, remain aloft for extended periods of time and carry large payloads brings a new capability to the science community for measuring, monitoring and observing remote locations of Earth not feasible or practical with piloted aircraft, most other robotic or remotely operated aircraft, or space satellites.”

The eye of Hurricane Earl, captured from the belly of NASA’s Global Hawk. An HDVis camera on the underside of the aircraft took this from an altitude of 60,000 ft. (about 11.4 miles high). Credit: NASA/NOAA

3. Construction In The Sky

With an eye on the future, there comes Flight Assembled Architecture. From the architectural firm of Gramazio & Kohler and UAS designer Raffaello D’Andrea, the installation was completed in collaboration with ETH Zurich at FRAC Centre, Orléans, France.

The small drones were programmed to interact with, lift, transport and assemble small modules to create a large building structure. When completed, the structure reached 6m high, with a diameter of 3.5m, and was comprised of about 1500 prefabricated polystyrene foam modules.

“It’s an experimental concept, but one that could negate our reliance upon cranes and scaffolding,” explains the site.

4.  Farm Hands In The Air

According to the 2013 AUVS Economic Report, together with on-the-ground application, unmanned aerial systems can provide nutrients and pesticides more accurately, and thus at reduced costs and with less product sprayed — “saving money and reducing environmental impact,” said the report.

Other common farming tasks like crop dusting can also be achieved now via UAV.

“While the military was the early adopter of this technology, the civilian applications in agriculture, search and rescue, and various other tasks is fast approaching,” said Matt McCrink, a Ph.D. student in the Aerospace Engineering Department at The Ohio State University and research assistant to Dr. Jim Gregory at the Aeronautic and Astronautics Research Laboratory in Columbus.

Vineyards as well are opting for drones when it comes to aerial mapping of their property to aid in their soil analysis, according to a report by the BBC.

5. Drone Journalism

Reports came out last month that an NPR-affiliated program had teamed with the University of Missouri to develop a UAV program that could cover “rural and farm-related stories.” Whether the FAA regulations will allow drone journalism any time soon still remains up in the air however.

It’s safe to say though, that covering stories with drones — such as those involving oil spills for example — could forever be changed by the use of drones.

There’s also been buzz around the idea that celebrity gossip specialists over at TMZ are in possession of their very own drone — one that can help them cover stories that the gravity-burdened paparazzi can not. You can read more about gossip drones, here.

6. Personal Broadcasting: Selfies Never Looked So Good

Imagine: A future in which Instagram and Vine — as entertaining as they are — have become yawn-inducing and in need a big fat fun injection.

Enter, the drone.

And not your bulky, run-of-the-mill drone. We mean a $50 tiny personal drone that can document your entire life, from your fab lunch to your arty selfies… all captured with the use of one nimble flier.

Technology to the rescue again.

7. Poachers Run But Can’t Hide

It’s pretty common knowledge by now that tech behemoth Google has set up a grant to help the WWF monitor endangered species via drone. The WWF’s anti-paoching project uses cheap UAVs with “cheap mobile phone technology tracking animal movements, and handheld devices carried by rangers, in a bid to outsmart often heavily armed poachers who bribe corrupt officials to avoid patrols and find wildlife,” reported the Guardian in February of this year.

Using drones to traverse forests and map the territories of endangered species is currently considered the most efficient method in practice. And considering the rough terrain these researchers are dealing with, drone use can actually speed up research. Even PETA is planning to assemble a drone team to keep an eye on rogue hunters.

If you harbour any doubts as to the level of technical sophistication needed to spot poachers and the like from on-high, check out these drones that can be taught to navigate a forest.

8. The Film Industry’s Eye In The Sky

Traditional film equipment is notoriously expensive. From massive cranes to helicopters, the costs can escalate extremely fast. But remotely-piloted broadcast and cinematic aerial drone cameras like these can reduce production costs without sacrificing aesthetics.

And filming via aerial drone isn’t just limited to the cinema, with photographers like Daniel Garate using them to make a living filming stunning imagery for property companies.

Here’s the type of spectacular remote footage that can be captured with unmanned fliers.

9. Unmanned Patrol

In public safety sectors, unmanned fliers seem like a natural tool set for take off — particularly in areas where humans are already patrolling dangerous locals. As the Mother Nature Network (MNN) reported, millions of miles of highways, bridges, and the like could be patrolled by these flying robots, which are a cost-efficient answer to keeping roads safe.

“Drones could keep workers safer because they won’t be going into traffic or hanging off a bridge,” explained Javier Irizarry, CONECTech Lab Director at the Georgia Institute of Technology, to MNN.

10. Drone, Turned Gofer

In the case of small drones (or UAVs), money could just as easily be earned as it is saved. And if services like San Francisco’s Tacocopter see the FAA loosen its UAV flight regulations soon, plenty of commercial interests could be met by the increase in civilian drone usage.

Though currently banned by the U.S. government, the Tacocopter wants to deliver lunch to you via unmanned drone helicopter. “Say you want a taco while you’re sitting on the beach,” said Tacocopter owner, Star Simpson, to the Huffington Post.

Good point. What craving-du-jours wouldn’t taste even better delivered via drone?

If you’re hearing this for the first time, the concept may seem a little out there, but even companies with years of street (or air) cred, like FedEx, want in on the drone game.

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