Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are becoming increasingly popular in not only the leisure market but for monitoring the environment. Besides being a fun toy to pilot (especially with first-person visual goggles), drone have become an incredibly important tool to observe the world around us.
Drone technology has entered many fields including surveillance, search and rescue operations, aerial photography, digital communications – and, of course, recreation. Drones are low cost, require little preparation and infrastructure, and no fuel (other than batteries) so it’s no wonder they have swarmed the market. Furthermore, they can be equipped with any number of sensors or cameras making them ideal for monitoring the environment.
Aerial photography/videography is one area where drones have a vital role: a small drone can fly for several hours recording pictures with a pixel resolution of 1m, meaning they are suitable for aerial mapping and nature monitoring. Hovering at around 200m, drones are capable of taking crystal-clear images of any environment on any day of the year, unrestricted by cloud cover. They can also be armed with meteorological apparatus such as wind gauges, thermometers and humidity or pressure sensors allowing them to gather climate data.
Drones can also reach inaccessible areas such as the rainforest in the Congo, lava flows in Hawaii, water reserves around Chad and ancient peat bogs in Switzerland. They can reveal how an area changes over time, down to the finest detail and have been used to model glacial features, monitor erosion, in coastal management, terrain modeling, forestry and in river and flooding assessments.
Continuing Renewable Energy
Renewable energy has a huge impact on the environment, lessening polluting fossil fuel use, but maintaining colossal wind turbines and swathes of solar panels is challenging. However, drones have a role to play here too; small UAVs are employed to inspect turbines relaying real-time videos of power cables and 3D images of blades to those on the ground. They’ve also recorded high definition videos of hydroelectric dam walls and could aid the installation of solar panels and their inspection using drone-based thermal imaging. Not only are they drones able to achieve these tasks quickly and efficiently, but they have low environmental and monetary costs.
Drones are ideal to fly into inaccessible or dangerous areas to assess and prevent environmental disasters. They gather information from places humans can’t reach to generate a snapshot of the situation, allowing officials to determine how best to deploy resources, minimize damage and save lives. Drones from American company senseFly were used following Typhoon Haiyan along the southeast coast of the Philippines in 2013, they created 2D base maps and 3D terrain models to evaluate damage and plan shelter reconstruction, supplying current and accurate data to aid the relief effort.
Small UAVs are a brilliant tool for inspecting species populations in remote areas to determine their reach, and even stop poachers before they strike by pinpointing their location. They’ve observed seabirds in Australia, saved Tanzanian chimps and Sumatran orangutans, counted seals in Canada and green turtles in Indonesia and prevented illegal logging in Brazil.
UAVs have traded places with farm machinery, becoming a precision instrument to spray crops in such a way to reduce fertilizer use thus conserving the resource and protecting the environment from pollution. They can also monitor livestock, crops and water levels, providing high resolution images of the health of crops for instance.
They may have started life in the military, but drone technology provides better opportunities to monitor and protect the environment. The demand for environmental monitoring drones is only going to increase as the benefits of such technology is realized and it is recognised how critical they are for assessing the environment and reducing pollution.
References and Further Reading
- Protecting the environment with drones and robots
- Environmental protection
- Five ways drones are being used to help the environment