Drones get a bad rap. Yes, they've enabled some next-level Big Brother surveillance and yes, they're employed to conduct absolutely terrifying bombing campaigns. But just like a troubled, maligned starlet, everyone really wants to see them change for the better.
Here are the 11 ways unmanned aerial vehicles can and should be used to spread good. Keep reading if you care about pizza and/or saving all the animals.
Help combat global warming
Starting in 2013, NASA began sending remote-controlled planes filled with monitoring equipment to the edge of the atmosphere to do some unprecedented measurements on the thickness of the tropopause -- the fluid layer between the stratosphere and troposphere. Translation for those of us without degrees in atmospheric science: they’re checking to see how water vapor and the ozone interact, and thus the possibility of retroactively curbing climate change.
Provide unique news coverage
When warzones or crowds make it too difficult or dangerous to get the full picture, drones are a huge help, offering access to stories that an on-the-ground reporter wouldn't be capable of capturing. And there's no question they've become one of the most powerful tools for newsrooms.
Make agriculture more efficient
Like a protective parent, most farmers are all-consumed with the status of their crops’ health. Traditionally, that means surveying the growing fields with piloted aircraft or satellites, which can get expensive, fast. Having special agricultural drones outfitted to fly low and stream photos/videos, collect soil and water samples, and perhaps even serve as precision crop-dusters could be a game-changer when it comes to high-value crops.
Transport medical supplies to hard-to-reach locales
Around the world right now, over 1 billion people live without access to proper roads, which means over 1 billion people are potentially too remote to receive emergency aid. With the help of upstart drone companies like Matternet, that will all change. Its goal is to develop a network of reliable and easy-to-operate UAVs for organizations like Doctors Without Borders and other aid agencies to deliver urgent supplies in minutes, rather than days or weeks.
Put out wildfires
It’s no surprise that fighting a raging forest fire is both incredibly dangerous and seriously complicated. Flames flare up unexpectedly, conditions change rapidly, and communication to people on the ground gets mucked up in thick clouds of smoke. That’s where the drones come in, collecting and sending info on wind conditions up close in real time. Down the road, they may even help snuff flames out themselves with robotic precision.
Provide fast medical help
As rapid as a normal 911 response is, there are plenty of medical emergencies that must be dealt with during the 10 minutes it takes an ambulance to arrive. Enter the Ambulance Drone, a recently unveiled concept designed to zoom to the GPS coordinates of an emergency call with a load of EMS-standard supplies, including a defibrillator. It’s also equipped with a microphone and speakers so a medical professional on the other end can provide simple instructions to revive or stabilize a victim.
Bridge-building is a notoriously fraught and dangerous undertaking, requiring tons of manpower and money. That's why engineers are designing ways to offload the hassle to teams of drones, which have already proven successful in "weaving" mini pedestrian suspension bridges.
Deliver packages and pizza
While much has been made of the drone delivery program being developed by Amazon, DHL, and others, it’s hard to argue with the prospect of a delicious, piping-hot pie arriving in minutes whenever you happen to get hungry, with or without a physical address. So far, a few mom-and-pop pizzerias around the world and even Domino's in the UK have been experimenting with drone delivery. The future sounds delicious.
Reforest the planet
We all know how destructive drones can be, but thanks to some ambitious Earth-loving engineers drones are also becoming a hugely restorative force, helping to re-forest some of the 15.3 billion trees destroyed each year.
Help protect endangered species and habitats
Keeping tabs on endangered species and environments has always been an immensely crucial and difficult gig for biologists and researchers in the field, but it could get a lot easier with help from an army of low-cost, camera-equipped drones. By accessing treetops and other hard-to-reach areas without disturbing precious natural habitats, they'll get a rare peek at the day-to-day goings on, like a bionic Jane Goodall. They’re also useful to track movements of hunters in places where poaching is a problem.
GoPros have made it easier than ever to capture kickass POV footage, but imagine how much more epic those wild and crazy stunts (and fireworks!) would look from the unique angle of a drone following every move? That’s exactly what the AirDog does. It’s an auto-stabilizing quadcopter with a camera mount designed to auto-track the movements of whoever’s wearing its tracker wristband.