Use of Drones. No doubt one of the fascinating achievements of modern technology which is not only a cool machine but also a beneficial one.
Drones are being used in many fields and are one of the most used machines by scientists who observe, measure and monitor the natural environment. From measuring the size of a forest to estimating the habitat of a wild animal to mapping the pattern of forest fires, these tech machines have revolutionized the way scientists collect data on the natural environment.
No matter what name we use to refer them, be it drones, aerial systems, surveillance aircraft or remote-controlled aircraft, the scientists and researchers community have agreed upon unanimously that they have a potential to better our understanding of the planet earth.
Over the past decade, a lot of funds has been invested in the research and development of drones. So much so that their annual global market is expected to reach 40 billion dollars by 2024. The funds that are invested in R & D is constantly improving the drones to become more and more compact, powerful, intelligent and user-friendly to fly safely.
The Faculty of Forestry at the University of British Columbia is primarily focusing on finding newer applications of drones, that it can do much more than just taking aerial pictures. The university’s Integrated Remote Sensing Studio (IRSS) has found the use of drones in mapping patterns of fire, estimating wildlife populations, mapping the extent of forests and afforestation.
Research Applications in Ecology
Drones find crucial applications in the field of Ecology. It can help capture various scientific data. For example, when flying above the forest, it can map the whole extent of it, with details of both fauna and flora, enabling the study and preservation of them.
The ability of the drones to fly over and into hard to reach areas helps scientists to gather data which were not possible before, so we now get new perspectives.
Some areas are dense, which limits the field study, as drones make the research easy, it helps us reduce cost and also some fragile ecosystems which may get disturbed with human interventions such as the artic areas are protected, unharmed.
Drones also help monitor the impacts of climate change, as they can be deployed easily and multiple times over the same stretch of area, capturing HD video/pictures, which could highlight us the gradual changes which would otherwise not have noticed.
Drones today comes with HD video cameras like those in our mobile phones. The videos taken by these drones can be converted in 3D data using advanced photogrammetric techniques, this helps to understand physical variations of vegetation.
Drones also have in-built sensors such as infrared or thermal, which captures what researches cannot see with their naked eye. And many other sensors can be built inside these machines, which makes the forest management truly scientific and incites cutting edge advancements.
Future of Drones
Many capabilities and potential of drones make them indispensable tools for scientific research. More R&D has to be done to improve the battery capacity, better flight manoeuvring and software. This will increase the quality of the data and reduce valuable time and cost.
With this drone, indulgence comes with a major concern among the general public, i.e. public safety. Till now there are no definite laws and regulations that govern the use of drones. So, there is a lot to be discussed how we can tap into the benefits of drones while keeping the safety of the general public on top priority.
BLOS (Beyond Line of Sight)
Most governments have laws stating that the drone should not be operated beyond the line of the operator’s sight. While this law may make sense for the public use of them, researchers cannot be able to abide by these laws as drones that fly above forest canopy cannot be seen by the operator from the ground. So exceptions have been for the use of them for the scientific research applications. More concrete regulations are yet to be made.