Consumer ‘Drones’ are becoming increasingly abundant and as we don’t like to miss out on a trend we recently acquired our own flying variant, exclusively designed for low-flying procrastination and distraction missions.
But beyond the entertainment value, the applications for drones are rapidly expanding, Not because they are becoming smarter but because we are getting smarter about how we use them.
‘Drone’ is a term which describes a wide range of devices that function without a person controlling them directly, usually an operator communicates remotely but recently these devices are becoming increasingly autonomous. Our own ‘Dazzle Drone’ would not survive two seconds if it wasn’t being expertly piloted with intense concentration.
However there is a new wave of unmanned vehicles which could usher in a new era in the way we provide internet services to those in remote areas, carry out tasks in dangerous environments and prevent poaching.
Recently DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) held their robotics challenge which is basically the olympics of robotics. The goal was to see which of the many autonomous systems entered was best at carrying out disaster relief tasks. The eventual goal is to remove humans from dangerous situations like Fukushima and replace them with robots. While the contestants won’t be replacing humans anytime soon the DRC sets the precedent and a clear goal for what autonomous robotics could achieve and provides hefty rewards to the best candidates.
Drones can be used to provide services where other methods are just not possible. One example is project ‘Aquilla’ developed by Internet.org and facebook. A solar powered UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicle) which will deliver internet services via lasers. The aim is to deploy a swarm of these drones, which can stay airborne for up to three months, to provide internet services to remote areas where no other internet infrastructure is present.
A collaboration between the Polytechnic University of Catalonia and Hemav has created a ‘Ranger Drone’ designed to scout out poachers in the vastness of South Africa’s National Parks. The system can track Rhinos and People with its infrared camera and is more cost effective than using planes or helicopters. It is a powerful tool in preventing the execution of some of nature rarest species from being killed.