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Do-Gooder Drones

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Unmanned aerial vehicles can be utilized for social good.

Drones have deservedly earned a negative reputation as a tool for targeted killings and surveillance that infringes on privacy rights. However quite a few organizations and companies are developing more positive uses for this technology.

The applicability of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) is far-reaching. One way in which UAVs are being utilized is in humanitarian aid and disaster relief. In many areas of the developing world, the road systems lack quick access from one point to another which can mean life or death. Matternet is one company that is aiming to address this challenge. By using drones, they can deliver medicine and other small packages to areas with limited access. The company has already conducted field trials in the Dominican Republic and Haiti.

Another application is in the environmental field. Convervationdrones.org is a non-profit started by a conservation ecologist and a primate biologist. They built their own UAV and in 2012, conducted a field test in Indonesia to look at the conditions of the rainforest. Since then, they have run a number of projects across the world that have gathered information on illegal poaching, habitat destruction, and endangered species. Serge Wich, one of the co-founders says, "The potential is huge to allow people to do very efficient data collection on a variety of issues that are important for conservation. We often struggle determining how many animals there are, where human encroachment is occurring. There are an enormous amount of ecological questions we can address with these systems." Their equipment allows them to capture photographs and video as well as 3D surface models. In addition, the organization provides instructions on building your own drone, and is planning on holding workshops to train people on how to use UAVs for their own conservation initiatives.

As the technology becomes less expensive and easier to operate, UAVs are likely to become more commonplace and their applicability for aid and information has much potential. However we’ll probably also need regulations to catch up with the technology to avoid its misuse. 

Photo by myfrozenlife, licensed under Creative Commons.