There was a time—not too long ago—that drone technology, while in its infancy, was being dismissed by many experts in product development fields as a passing fancy, a mere hobby or pastime that few people ever thought would have important real-world applications.
Fast forward to today, and we realize just how wrong those experts—and indeed many of us—truly were. Drones are now being used for a seemingly endless array of practical, and even vital, purposes that we’ve already begun to take for granted. Of course there’s still the fun and frivolous uses, but more and more we are seeing the technology entering the realm of life-saving pursuits, strategic military and industrial applications, and so much more, to the point where entire niche markets are being spawned that leverage these flying machines for big business.
So if you still believe that drones are relegated to weekend hobbyists and online retailers looking for a cheap and creative way to deliver packages, consider these uses that are currently underway in our world.
- From sprawling corporate farms to small mom-and-pop vineyards, drones are being used to effectively measure the most important elements of crops, such as growth rates, pest infestations and more. Because they can detect nuances in plantings that can’t be viewed effectively from the ground—healthy densities for example—they can help farmers plan ahead to avoid disasters arising from droughts, infections that can wipe out entire yields and even whether or not certain sections of plantings are maturing at a faster rate than others.
- Open up a newspaper or turn on the TV and it’s likely you’ll see more sad news about the poaching of rare and endangered animals all over the globe—elephants for their ivory tusks, rhinos for their horns, etc. But now, in parts of Africa and Asia, drones being flown at night have been able to detect the presence of poachers and give immediate locations that allow wildlife rangers to deploy quickly and stop the horrible killings.
- All over beaches in South America (they haven’t made too much of an appearance in the U.S. just yet) drones are being used to assist lifeguards in saving drowning swimmers. Equipped with a float, camera, microphone and life preserver, they can give a victim precious time to survive until emergency personnel arrive. These drones can also detect the presence of sharks nearby, allowing lifeguards to get swimmers out of the water more quickly than ever before.
- There isn’t a spot on earth immune from natural or manmade disasters. But these unmanned vehicles can now be tasked with flying over affected areas and relaying visual information to first responders, allowing them to concentrate their efforts where they are most needed. From the earthquake in Nepal to the numerous tsunamis that have devastated Japan and Southeast Asia, drones are being used to pinpoint remote regions that would typically be underserved by emergency crews, in the end saving more lives.
- With environmental crises playing out worldwide, drone technology has shown to be a crucial element in monitoring and surveying. They can measure levels of air pollution, plot land erosion, create heat maps and even collect water samples. In this realm knowledge is truly power, and the data the drones can gather quickly and cheaply makes them an invaluable resource to environmental scientists and climatologists.
- It’s a sad truth that EMTs can’t be everywhere all the time—if they could so many more lives could be saved from things such as heart attacks and strokes. But now a handful of private companies are developing drones that can deliver defibrillators to victims in a fraction of the time it would take for an ambulance to arrive on site. These droves are also equipped with audio/visual capabilities, meaning the EMTs can give information to people on the ground on how to help someone until the professionals arrive.
- In the construction industry, drones are showing great potential in aiding architects and builders collaborate more effectively and much more efficiently. Bridging the gap between the 3D vision of the designer and the 2D reality of the builder, drones can help with on-site modeling in ways that greatly increases the rate at which construction happens. And in future, it may also be possible to put our flying friends to work actually helping with the physical construction itself.