Prepare For A Future Of Drone-filled Skies.

Drones have received a substantial amount of attention over the last couple of years—both good and bad. Most basic drone models are capable of flying thousands of feet high and can be equipped with powerful video cameras.

They are relatively cheap, easy to fly, and marketed to novices—it’s no wonder there have been more than a few ‘incidents’ in the skies around us.

Aside from invading sensitive airspace and private property, drones have also been used to smuggle drugs and stalk private citizens. There have been numerous incidents in which drone have crashed into buildings and even people. There has also been much concern regarding their use in potential terror attacks. Thus the potential rogue use of drones has inspired a backlash against them.

But a number of new and potentially beneficial applications for drones are on the horizon. Here are some of the most interesting:

Saving Lives
Heavy traffic has always posed a problem when life-saving services are needed quickly. For a massive heart attack victim, the recognized ‘survival window’ is a mere six minutes. Drone usage presents a solution to a difficult and critical situation. A Belgian engineering student has invented the ‘ambulance drone’ with a built in defibrillator complete with a GPS unit able to pinpoint the location from a 911 call made from a mobile phone. The unit has speakers, a camera and microphone so a paramedic on the other end can communicate and provide instructions. Ambulance drones could be positioned on rooftops around a city enabling quick response times to those in need.

Search & Rescue
Winner of the Drones for Good competition this year is a group called Flyability – who designed a “collision proof” search and rescue drone. This application could transform the way emergency response teams rescue those in need. Trying to locate people trapped in avalanches, rubble from an earthquake, or those lost hiking takes an immense amount of resources and time—something those trapped or lost don’t often have. Flyability has invested their $1 million in prize money into the development of these specialized drones.

Aid Delivery
When disaster strikes, there are many critical needs that must be deployed quickly. In addition to search and rescue missions, survivors require water, food, and medicine—but sometimes reaching those in need is tricky and time consuming. Through their foundation Bill and Melinda Gates are partnering with NGOs to deliver life-saving items to isolated areas. The foundation is also working with a U.S. company to deliver vaccines to remote countries via drones.

Farming & Ranching
Farms and ranches typically operate on huge tracts of land. Quickly and consistently monitoring the health of livestock or crops utilizing drones makes managing these vast operations more efficient. Drones could fundamentally change the day-to-day operations of these businesses.

To cover a story, journalists and cameramen frequently put themselves in harm’s way. Using drones to report on dangerous conflicts or weather events can help keep journalists safe while delivering a live view of newsworthy events.

Amazon and Dominos Pizza have both announced plans to develop new delivery concepts utilizing drones. Amazon plans to introduce a service “Prime Air” using drones to deliver a vast array of products in a day or even minutes (in areas that will permit it). Dominos also plans to implement the use of drones. Google and DHL are testing drone delivery services in Australia and Germany. If these large corporations are able to navigate through onerous regulations and get lawmakers on board, they will pave the way for a host of other companies who will follow suit.

Benefits for Nature
Another winner of the Drones for Good contest has developed a process to combat deforestation. A team of scientists from the UK have created a drone that can assess how much deforestation has occurred in an area. The drone can then return to drop seed pods in the worst affected areas. The group estimates this system could plant up to one billion trees per year.

Drones are also being used to monitor endangered species. Researchers can check that the animals are adapting to new environments, eating well, and catch potential poachers.

Any technology (weapons, the Internet, satellites) has the potential for both beneficial and harmful use—it is not the invention itself that is typically problematic, but rather how good and/or bad actors choose to utilize the object. Drones are no different. Since we are not able to stop the forward march of technology and progress, we ought to maximize the beneficial uses of these devices and prepare ourselves for drone-filled skies.

*Currently the FAA has banned most commercial drone flights until it can finalize new safety rules—a step that will take another 6-12 months.

**The FAA lacks the authority to license recreational drones, though it does have the power to impose civil fines on anyone who recklessly interferes with air traffic or endangers people on the ground. But, the agency says it does not have the man-power to investigate most complaints and has levied fines in only a few cases.

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