Drone technology has made impressive strides over the last few years. These modern flying marvels are now equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and smart technologies to improve their navigation and open up doors to new applications. Such advancements have seen autonomous and semi-guided drones take to the sky, and we have now realised just how useful these little flying machines can be.

Humanitarian relief

Drones have been used to drop off medical supplies to hospitals and disaster-stricken areas in emergencies where other transport services would not be viable. A start-up company in Silicon Valley began supplies deliveries to a remote hospital in Rwanda and is now planning to expand to more facilities owing to the successes of the first attempts. An ambulance drone has also recently come into the scene. The vehicle will be integrated with the standard ambulance response system and will carry critical first aid supplies.

Wildlife conservation

Drones are now being used all over the world to track and film wildlife. Information gathered by drones equipped with long-range cameras and tracking tools helps wildlife welfare organisation study the behaviour of animals in their natural habitat to come up with conservation strategies. Stealthy airborne tracking saves both time and money compared to ground tracking.

Weather and agriculture

Sending drones into storms is a much safer and fruitful approach to studying weather phenomenon than other aerial or ground-based efforts. NASA and other science organisations already have drones specifically designed to collect data in extreme weather conditions, which when analysed, helps meteorologist understand weather patterns and make accurate forecasts. The agriculture and farming industry are also noticing the major benefits through the use of fixed wing and multi-rotor drones for livestock and crop monitoring, although this relies mostly on professional UAV services as these types of drones can be very expensive.

Industrial inspection

Inspection of industrial facilities especially in hard-to-reach areas has been made easy with the help of drones. Manufacturing facilities such as boilers, furnaces, piping and tunnels can now easily be inspected using collision-tolerant drones that slip through tight spaces riddled with obstacles. These drones use sensors and cameras to gather data on the state of the structures under examination and relay the data to the inspector in real time.

Wind turbines maintenance

Traditionally, wind turbine inspection and maintenance has been a tedious and often dangerous manual task. Intelligent drones can now fly up to the turbine blades, run checks, and even carry out minor repairs and routine maintenance such as cleaning and paint spraying. There are already companies in Europe and the US making optimistic business projections based on this service alone.

Like every advancing technology, new improvements lead to new applications, which is the case with drones. Currently, the biggest drone problems include battery life, flight time, construction material and load bearing. As engineers find new solutions to these limitations, drone users in various sectors will continue to discover new uses for UAVs.

Photo: Drone on campus by Gabriel GM licensed under Creative Commons 4.0