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Drones - From Military to Environmental Purposes

Most of the American public is already familiar, if only in passing, with drones and their general capabilities. We know that they’re primarily used for military purposes, whether it be surveillance or combat, and that they can be controlled remotely. However, new uses are constantly cropping up for drones in commercial settings, which is leaving many Americans slightly uneasy about their presence – an uneasiness which comes from a lack of information on the positive work drones can do. Granted, as with anything, there are better and worse sides to drones. But in some cases, the good might entirely outweigh the bad.

Some of the biggest supporters of drone use are delivery services. Maybe you’ve seen the video of Amazon’s purposed drone delivery service. It would make their delivery services much quicker, efficient, and in the long run, save money and valuable resources by reducing the number of heavy, fuel-eating trucks on the road. Joining Amazon in looking into drone delivery is UPS, the world’s largest parcel service. Both companies have more than enough funds to invest in research, so it’s possible that delivery drones will be closer to reality every day. In a rather comical bid to join UPS and Amazon in the drone delivery arena, Domino’s has been supposedly testing their “DomiCopter” drone, which is a drone that would be used to deliver pizza. It’s a godsend for delivery addicts everywhere, and thinking about the number of delivery cars (who only deliver a few pizzas each round) off the road is intriguing, but Domino’s full investment doesn’t seem as likely as an Amazon or UPS drone.

It isn’t all about commercial, money making drones either. There are a number of philanthropic companies looking to use drones to better our planet as well. A company on the forefront of this is Conservation Drones, who not only were able to develop a drone for only $2,000, but were also able to show its ability to survey and collect conservation data of rain forests and other wildlife habitats without disturbing them. The company caught the attention of the Mongabay corporation, whose financial support allowed them to become an official non-profit. What this means is that Conservation Drones will be able to channel even more funds into creating inexpensive drones to help protect and conserve the planet's increasingly threatened wildlife habitats.

Joining them is Matternet, whose purpose is to use drones to deliver medical supplies to impoverished areas, but to also create a “physical internet” infrastructure in rural and remote areas whose only somewhat viable option today is satellite internet. Their end goal is to connect those in remote areas with the rest of the world, thus increasing their education and knowledge, and hopefully enabling them to better improve both their lives and the lives of others around them.

In addition to philanthropic efforts, drones are becoming a tool used in response to emergency situations. Germany company Height-Tech has teamed with defibrillator manufacturer Schiller to create a system where defibrillators would be delivered via drone to heart attack victims when prompted by a smartphone app. The drones could fly a distance of 200 km according to Height-Tech’s website, making their use fairly localized at the moment (for now).

Closer to home, drones are being used to track weather, wildfires, and other potential natural disasters. Recently, NASA teamed with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and Northrop Group to develop and create drones which would be used to track and monitor hurricanes. These drones would be able to reach higher altitudes than the hurricane itself, thus giving an overview of the storm that previously has been mostly unavailable. In addition to that effort, the use of drones in tracking and fighting wildfires is becoming an increasingly viable option. Since wildfires are notorious for rapidly and unexpectedly changing direction, a drone would be able to give live updates to fire officials and the public, whose lives (and the lives of the wildlife involved) may be saved by this real-time knowledge. Right now, firefighters tackling these wildfires have had to update the location of the fire themselves through tablets and smartphones. However, in more remote areas, where they have no internet or cellular connection, they’re out of luck and must rely solely on instinct and (likely) old information they've received.

When it comes to drones, there are equally viable arguments both for and against their use. None of these arguments are going to be solved overnight, though generally, once a technology hits the market, it’s difficult to reverse its forward progress. It’s simply going to take time in order to see when and where drone usage will become regular, where it shouldn’t be used, and what changes need to be made for an increasingly drone friendly world. According to the Federal Aviation Agency, there is likely to be a staggering 7,500 commercial drones in the air by 2018, some of which can hopefully be put to good use.


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