In an era of rapid technological advancement, one innovation stands out for its versatility and transformative potential: drones.
These unmanned aerial vehicles have soared beyond their initial hobbyist reputation to become invaluable tools across different industries. With their features like thermal imaging, GPS systems, high-resolution cameras, and specialised sensors, drones have emerged as game-changers in fields ranging from wildlife conservation to medicine and agriculture.
The global drone market is projected to reach around USD 260.5 billion by 2030, growing at a CAGR of approximately 38.75% between 2023 and 2030.
Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are increasingly being used in various purposes such as military, commercial, consumer, and industrial uses. However, as artificial intelligence and machine learning advances, these uses cover a much broader spectrum. Drones can now be used for any industry that involves a physical space that requires monitoring. In this article, we are going to cover 5 examples of out-of-the-box uses of drone technology.
Drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras and GPS systems can help monitor and protect endangered species by tracking their movements, identifying poaching activities, and surveying remote habitats.
Scientists from Liverpool John Moores University have discovered that combining drone technology with thermal imaging can be utilized to identify different species in Madagascar, a biodiversity hotspot. By utilizing infrared cameras mounted on drones, each species can be recognized based on their unique thermal fingerprint, and machine learning algorithms can assist in distinguishing between them. This method has proven to be more accurate than ground surveys in identifying spider monkeys in 83% of cases.
Another unexpected example is the researchers at New Mexico Tech who are repurposing taxidermy birds as drones for wildlife monitoring. The project's lead, Dr Mostafa Hassanalian, aims to use the drones for conservation efforts. By reverse engineering the birds' physical characteristics, the team hopes to learn about energy management in flight, potentially benefiting the aviation industry. Privacy concerns have been acknowledged, with a focus on civil applications. The project will continue for two more years, with plans to improve flight duration beyond the current 10-20 minutes.
Medical Supplies Delivery
Drones have been used to deliver medical supplies, including vaccines, blood samples, and essential medications, to remote and inaccessible areas, especially during emergencies or natural disasters.
The healthcare drone industry has experienced significant growth, with a projected market value increase from $254 million in 2021 to $1.5 billion in 2028. Medical supply and laboratory sample delivery are the primary use cases for healthcare drones.
Although organ delivery drones are still in development and testing stages, a survey conducted among US surgeons revealed their potential significance in the field. According to the survey, reducing cold ischaemia time to 8 hours using organ delivery drones could increase organ acceptance rates, as time reduction in delivery is a crucial advantage. The current transportation system for organ delivery is considered inadequate by only 16% of surgeons, as using drones can save time and make organs more viable, ultimately saving lives faster.
Drones have truly transformed the landscape of precision agriculture, introducing innovative and effective methods for monitoring crops. These remarkable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) come equipped with sensors and imaging technology, empowering farmers to capture high-resolution aerial imagery. The aerial vantage point allows for a comprehensive assessment of crop health, enabling the identification of areas experiencing stress, nutrient deficiencies, disease outbreaks, or pest infestations. These invaluable insights aid farmers in targeting specific areas for interventions like irrigation, fertilizer application, or targeted pesticide treatments, resulting in more precise resource allocation across the fields.
In addition to crop monitoring, drones excel in field mapping by creating intricate and detailed maps of agricultural landscapes. This wealth of information assists farmers in making informed decisions related to crop rotation, planting patterns, and optimal soil management practices. Furthermore, drones have the remarkable capability to generate elevation models, contour maps, and even immersive 3D representations of the fields, facilitating essential tasks such as land leveling and drainage planning.
Drones take precision agriculture a step further by enabling farmers to conduct in-depth soil analysis. Through specialized sensors, these UAVs can gather vital data on soil moisture levels, pH, and nutrient content. Armed with this knowledge, farmers can create precise soil maps and implement targeted adjustments such as variable-rate fertilization, resulting in optimal crop growth while minimizing resource waste.
When it comes to irrigation management, drones prove to be invaluable allies. By monitoring soil moisture levels and pinpointing areas requiring watering, they assist farmers in optimizing irrigation practices. This targeted approach ensures that water is applied only where it is needed, leading to significant water conservation, cost reduction, and improved overall efficiency.
Drones excel in inspecting roofs, inaccessible areas, and confined spaces, capturing detailed imagery and videos. Additionally, they play a significant role in construction progress monitoring, providing real-time aerial views of construction sites to track progress, ensure adherence to timelines and safety standards, and enhance the accuracy, speed, and safety of building inspections by facilitating early problem detection and informed decision-making.
Researchers at Penn State have analyzed the gaze patterns of building inspectors using eye-tracking software, aiming to understand their safety assessment process and apply their findings to code autonomous systems like drones. The study involved ten architectural engineering graduate students who wore Tobii eye-tracking glasses, which measured eye movements and pupil dilation while assessing building facades.
The study's results contribute to the development of drones equipped with high-resolution cameras, thermal sensors, and LiDAR technology for visual and thermal assessments.
Drones equipped with specialized cameras and hydrophones can monitor and study whale populations, capturing high-resolution images, recording vocalizations, and gathering valuable data on behavior, migration patterns, and population dynamics.
SnotBot, a funny-named but serious scientific tool, is a modified drone that collects whale "snot" for research. By flying through a whale's blow, it captures important information like DNA, hormones, and microbiomes, helping scientists study their health. It's been used for five years to study blue whales, providing a stress-free and affordable way to gather data. The Ocean Alliance has even expanded its drone use, collecting bio-acoustics data and tagging whales more efficiently and at a lower cost compared to traditional methods.