Drones' 1,001 Uses Featured Pattern: P1074 June 2017

Author: Peter Batty (Send us feedback.)

The decreasing size and expanding capabilities of drones are enabling an increasingly wide range of applications.

Abstracts in this Pattern:

A project by Resolve's (Washington, DC) Biodiversity and Wildlife Solutions Program, the Tanzania Wildlife Research Institute (Arusha, Tanzania), and the Mara Elephant Project (Nairobi, Kenya) has had success in using drones to prevent conflicts between humans and elephants in communities close to the Tarangire and Serengeti National Parks in Tanzania. Data from 51 field trials show that drones can reliably drive wild elephants away from contested areas, thereby protecting them from humans. And in an effort to address concerns about dwindling bee populations, researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (Tokyo, Japan) have created a prototype insect-size drone capable of pollinating plants.

Decreases in the cost and size of drones have increased military interest in drone technology. The US Department of Defense (Arlington County, Virginia) recently tested a swarm of 104 electric microdrones, dispersing the drones from three jets above the Naval Air Weapons Station China Lake in California. The Perdix drones—originally developed during a student project at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT; Cambridge, Massachusetts)—have been modified for military use by researchers at the MIT Lincoln Laboratory. During the test, the Perdix drones demonstrated autonomous swarming capabilities such as "self-healing communications, self-adapting formation flying, and collective decision-making." And industrial use of drones can prevent human workers from experiencing deadly accidents such as falls from power lines and electrocutions. Power utility AES Corporation (Arlington, Virginia) is working with Measure (Washington, DC), which develops software that turns drones into service machines, to create fleets of inspection drones that can perform hazardous inspections and maintenance work. AES is making increasing use of drones that take close-up video of power lines and electrical equipment that human inspectors can view on a computer monitor.

Most small electric rotor-driven drones suffer from short flight times because of the shortcomings of the batteries they use. H3 Dynamics (Singapore, Singapore) recently unveiled a fuel-cell-powered multirotor drone that weighs only 7 kilograms and can fly for ten hours without refueling, which gives it a flight distance of 500 kilometers. Such capabilities could one day enable a broad array of new drone applications.