You may have seen the drones flying around Lady Gaga during her 2017 Super Bowl halftime performance, or you may have heard about Amazon using them to deliver packages on the same day that they are ordered.
However, you may not fully understand what they are or how they might affect your future. In essence, a drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle. Despite popular belief, a UAV does not have to be small, like a remote plane; rather, it can be any size. Think of blimps and robot planes, each of which can be controlled via remote or autonomously.
Though unmanned aerial vehicles are just recently gaining attention, UAVs are nothing new — at least, not the concept of them. If you have ever been in a hobby shop, visited a park on a beautiful sunny day or had an uncle who was into building model planes or helicopters, then you’ve likely seen an unmanned aircraft in action. The reason they’re gaining so much attention now, however, is because of the many ways in which they are changing the world.
It’s hard to escape all the conversation surrounding UAVs today. Whether you get your news from CNN or Facebook, you’ve likely heard about UAVs being used for everything from weapons of war to same-day delivery. If you’ve delved a little deeper, you might even be worried about how this technology could violate your privacy or be interested in how it can be used to prevent acts of terrorism from occurring at major events.
While none of that information is necessarily wrong, it is only the beginning of the very big and very real impact this technology is having on our world. Below are just five ways that UAV technology is being used to change life as we know it:
1. Philanthropic Efforts
According to the United Nations, over 5 billion people in the world lack the essential medicines they need to live long, healthy and prosperous lives. This is in large part due to many people of the world continuing to live in rural and hard-to-reach places.
One California drone maker, Zipline, aims to change that. Zipline recently teamed up with the Rwandan government to deliver medicine to parts of the country that are difficult to reach by land or large aircraft. Now based in central Rwanda, the company flies its aircrafts within a 50-mile radius to help those in need. In addition to bringing much-needed medicines to people of the world who would otherwise have no access to it, Zipline has shown the industry that drones can be used for more than recording ball games, dropping bombs or highlighting pop-stars — they can be used for good and to change the fate of people less fortunate. Organizations such as Doctors Without Borders and UNICEF have teamed up with governments of other impoverished nations such as Malawi and Madagascar to provide the same type of services for citizens in need.
As one of the greatest and most recent natural disasters in the nation’s history, Hurricane Harvey is a relevant example of how the technology can be used for insurance purposes. The hurricane is expected to cost insurance agencies and the city of Houston billions of dollars in damages. To gain a thorough assessment of the damage, insurers plan to deploy UAVs. Both Allstate and Farmer’s Insurance have prepared their aerial vehicles to do the incredible — assess billions of dollars’ worth of damage without actually setting foot in the disaster zone. Though a huge undertaking, drone technology is so advanced that the unmanned aircraft are expected to be able to complete the task without fail and in a much safer and more efficient manner than any other human intel could.
Harvey is not the first time UAVs have been used for insurance inspections. Though most insurance agencies are still experimenting with the technology, the bigger players like Allstate and Farmer’s have put their vehicles to the test before, such as when severe storms ravaged the roofs of homes in New York this past April. According to USA Today, these larger insurance agencies have previously used the technology to investigate claims associated with weather damage. Not only is it more efficient, but it also negates the use of the ladders and prevents injury to agency employees.
3. Extreme Weather Forecasting
It is estimated that approximately 1,000 tornados occur in the U.S. each year. While many of these tornados go undetected, the larger F3s, F4s, and F5s wreak havoc that is hard to ignore and that costs local and federal governments billions of dollars each year. Hurricanes are less common, but as Hurricane Harvey has recently proved, they can be just as deadly and just as costly as several tornados combined. Though we can roughly estimate how many tornados and hurricanes to expect in any given year based on previous weather patterns, it is difficult to forecast, and therefore plan for, these natural disasters. Drones are expected to help with that.
UAV makers have the common goal of making their technology meteorologist friendly. While the technology is not yet fully there, developers hope to soon release fixed-wing crafts that can be sent into the atmosphere to measure air pressure, temperature, humidity and wind direction. They hope that by catching changes in these conditions as they occur, they can accurately gauge how a storm might move and what type of damage it can be expected to cause. This will allow cities and states to better prepare for storms and to evacuate in a timelier manner.
4. Photos and Videos
From football games to marathons, from growing storms to renowned landmarks, there are birds-eye perspectives of countless events and places that we, as humans, could never be privy to, at least not without setting foot in a plane or helicopter. But with drones, that is all about to change. UAV technology is being used to capture images from above, creating one-of-a-kind panoramas that are changing the way photographers and videographers alike approach their art. Movies such as The Wolf on Wall Street, The Expendables 3 and Captain America: Civil War used aerial footage to enhance the films’ effects. CNN used the technology to report on the earthquakes in Ecuador and Italy, and real estate agents use aerial photography to really sell a home to prospective buyers.
That is not all, though. Drone technology today can be programmed to follow their “owners.” Now, surfers, kayakers, paddle boarders and other extreme sports enthusiasts everywhere are using UAVs to capture epic moments on film that will impress their followers and sponsors alike.
5. Wildlife Conservation Efforts
Until recently, it was difficult for conservationists to gauge what kind of impact humans have on hard-to-reach places such as the middle of the ocean or a rainforest. Moreover, it was hard to see just how much of Earth’s wildlife has been negatively (or positively) impacted by our presence on this planet. Drones, however, are changing that.
In recent years, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts has used UAV technology to track the migration patterns and monitor the health of humpback whales off the coast of Cape Cod. The U.S. Geological Survey employed similar technology to observe sandhill cranes in Colorado. And most notably, UAVs have been deployed in Africa, where they are being used to track poachers and put an end to the illegal activity of hunting endangered wildlife such as rhinos and elephants. Sadly, the tusks and horns of these majestic creatures go for thousands of dollars on the black market, and previous conservation efforts have been virtually useless. However, with UAVs, local law enforcement agencies can be ready to catch criminals in the act before any harm is done.
Poachers are extremely dangerous, which is why the “sport” has prevailed for so long. Park rangers were hesitant to head out into the brush at night for fear of being attacked and possibly even killed by these dangerous bandits. With drone technology, they no longer have to worry about this though, as the technology acts as their eyes and ears. The vehicles are programmed to patrol a certain area, collect data and predict poacher movement. This is done by watching the animals’ movements, tracking water sources and observing weather patterns, each of which can help Rangers and the local governments predict where and when the poachers are going to be before the criminals even make a move.
UAV Technology Is the Way of the Future
Although there are some understandable concerns about how UAVs might be deployed, it’s important to note all the good that can come from drone use. UAV technology, like any other technological advancement, has the potential to be destructive. However, with clear guidelines set forth by the federal government and set safety regulations, drones have the very real potential of changing the future for the better. From aiding in humanitarian efforts to assisting in insurance claims, predicting major storms, advancing the visual arts and helping with wildlife conservation efforts, it’s safe to say that this technology is on the path of doing far more good than harm.