Drones in Service of the Public Good


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Archaeologist Luis Jaime Castillo digitally recreates the dig site of an ancient building in Peru using 3D mapping technology and help from DJI's Inspire 1.

Drones have a wide range of exciting uses, from city exploration and drone racing, to aerial photography and filmmaking, just to name a few.

But there’s more to drones than personal entertainment. As the adoption of drones increases, we are seeing them being put to use for other ends, for example as tools for business use and even for the benefit of the public good.

In July of this year, in the small town of Mechanic Falls in Maine, U.S., the local fire department adapted a new tool when two teenage boys were found stranded on the rocks in the heavy rapids.

When notified about the boys’ situation, the department’s Fire Chief decided to put his Phantom 3 to a new and innovative use in the rescue.

“While rescuers began setting up an inflatable dinghy to retrieve the young men, Fire Chief Frank Roma used his DJI Phantom 3 to fly a haul line out to them. The unnamed 18-year-old then used this to pull in a life jacket before the tricky rescue operation began.”

Firefighters use drone to help rescue stranded rafters (The Verge)

In addition to search and rescue, UAVs are also being used for animal and environmental protection.

Australian Griffith University’s Dr. Jan-Olaf Meynecke now uses drones to monitor the health of humpback whales off the country’s coast. Each year, about 19,000 whales migrate from Antarctica to the waters outside southeast Queensland, where the university is located.

This provides Dr. Meynecke with a unique opportunity to survey the well-being of our planet’s remaining humpback population. He does it by collecting mucus from the whales’ skin using a DJI Phantom, when the whales breach the surface to take a breath.

"We wait for their second breath and so they come up for a second time and that's when I usually try to get the whale blow.”

Queensland researcher uses drone to sample humpback whale mucus to measure their health (ABC Australia)

In Peru, the Ministry of Culture has taken to using DJI drones to map and protect historical sites so that they are not destroyed by real estate developments.

“Builders often claim ignorance of the boundaries of archaeological sites as an excuse for destroying them, and until the advent of drones, it was an argument that was rather hard to contradict. Not anymore: The drones allow archaeologists to inexpensively create photographic maps that clearly show where state-maintained ruins end and private property begins, making it harder for builders to argue that they lacked clear guidelines.”

Guarding Machu Picchu: How Peru is using drones to protect its archaeological treasures (Slate)

What is becoming clear is that the perspective that drones offer, enabling monitoring and the gathering of information in ways that has never before been possible, and access to otherwise inaccessible locations is incredibly useful to the world at large. In the near future, we will likely see many more ingenious ways of utilizing UAV technology for the benefit of the public good.