Actual drones for not-evil

Chris: Day 2 of mighty mighty DRONE WEEK! Wait…what’s drone week?

Recently I was invited to the InfoCamp unConference at Berkeley where among the awesome and inspiring presentations, I sat in on Peter Swigert’s workshop on drones. Since the blog was deep in Oblivion, Pete and I agreed to coauthor a series of posts on this phenomenon, and also to set the record a little more straight for sci-fi fans and authors on the real-world state of drones.

Today Drone Week continues with the not-so-scary world of actual drones.

drone-week

Delivery drones

While capitalism is a neutral force at best, the speculative drones that Amazon and Google are working on stand to make delivery faster and more direct. While these projects are undoubtedly driven by possible profits, Google suggests that rapid delivery by drone will also have significant social benefits. Astro Teller, director at Google X, suggests that on-demand drop off and pick up we of goods will let us need to own less. “It would help move us from an ownership society to an access society. We would have more of a community feel to the things in our lives. And what if we could do that and lower the noise pollution and lower the carbon footprint, while we improve the safety of having these things come to you?”

Parcel delivery by drone is reminiscent of early proposals for mail delivery by parachute, seen here in a 1921 edition of Popular Mechanic.

Parcel delivery by drone is reminiscent of early proposals for mail delivery by parachute, seen here in a 1921 edition of Popular Mechanic.

Agricultural drones

Drones are already being used to help farmers monitor their crops. Companies like PrecisionHawk or senseFly offer aerial imagery capture and analysis of crop growth and health. Drones can cover much larger areas than on the ground monitoring and require minimal upfront costs or investments. With rising population to feed and climate change and soil degradation to combat, drones can be a valuable tool in increasing agricultural yields.

An example of image processing from aerial imagery taken by drone from HoneyComb, one of many companies offering drone services for agriculture

An example of image processing from aerial imagery taken by drone from HoneyComb, one of many companies offering drone services for agriculture

Medical drones

An emergency drone that carries a defibrillator has been developed and is currently in testing. The drone could be dispatched by emergency services and arrive to the site of a cardiac arrest faster than any ambulance, and “includes a webcam and loudspeaker and allows remote doctors to walk people on the scene through the process of attaching the electrodes and preparing the defibrillator.

Similarly, Doctors Without Borders is experimenting with drones to rapidly transport patient samples to fight tuberculosis epidemics in parts of Papua New Guinea where road transport is too slow.

Image from FastCo.Exist.

Image from FastCo.Exist.

Archeological drones

Drones are also being used for a variety of archaeological projects. They are a cheap method of capturing images to build 3D models of ruins. “In remote northwestern New Mexico, archaeologists are using drones outfitted with thermal-imaging cameras to track the walls and passages of a 1,000-year-old Chaco Canyon settlement, now buried beneath the dirt. In the Middle East, researchers have employed them to guard against looting.” And in the Yucatan peninsula, drones provided a cost effective solution to flying over dense, remote jungles, and identified previously undiscovered Mayan ruins.

Peruvian archaeologists command a drone to search for architectural ruins. (New York Times)

Peruvian archaeologists command a drone to search for architectural ruins. (New York Times)

Of course these are all cool and useful models of non-military uses of drones. But it can get cooler. In the next post, we’ll look at some speculative future uses of drones. Hollywood, get out your pens, or whatever it is you write with these days.

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