When we think of drones, we frequently first think of the military, video games, or movies. However, last month Google decided to not renew a Pentagon contract for an artificial intelligence program that aims to categorize drone strike targets, under tension from workers who thought that it is unethical.
Yet, a report released by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics in June, called “Drones in the Service of Society,” offers an sight at the capability of drone use in humanitarian aid efforts. “When we have natural disasters, starving people in conflict, or emergency need for medicines, drones can come to the rescue,” said co-author Noel Sharkey.
Drones are being utilized to deliver blood to hospitals in the Rwanda area, battle wildfires in California, and even screen oil pipelines. Here are a few other ways they’ve helped, as well:
- Observing volcanos to help advance warning times.
Following the eruption of Kilauea in Hawaii, volcanologist at the U.S. Geographical Survey utilized drones to plot magma streams, plan models of the changing landscapes and record gases. Volcanic activity is tough to foresee – “Every volcano has its own kind of personality,” says volcanologist Janine Krippner – however data from the drones can help, for example, observing spikes in gas emitted from a volcano, a potential precursor to eruptions.
- Delivering to emergency clinics or hospitals.
Matternet, a Menlo Park, California-based startup, raised $16 million for moving clinical supplies and lab samples between hospitals in California and North Carolina. The organization began testing its drone delivery system in Zurich, Switzerland, to fly pathology samples and blood to labs back from 2015. Then in May, the Federal Aviation Administration approved Matternet, along with others, to team up with state, local or tribal governments to test unmanned aerial networks in the U.S.
- Finding infections in whales.
Researchers are utilizing drones to gather the mist discharged from the blowholes of the humpback whales, rather than the normal and more inconvenient method of following whales by boat and attempting to catch the mist with long poles. From the samples collected, the researchers are learning more about the whale’s wellbeing, infections in their systems and can even help them determine how the infections are transmitted – which are “related to human pathogens like ones that cause the common cold,” according to STAT news.
- Looking for and finding landmines.
Specialist in Binghamton University fostered a way for drones to find small ‘butterfly’ landmines that are usually difficult to detect. The drones are furnished with infrared cameras that can distinguish the mines by their temperature and shape: the mines heat up at a much faster rate than the surrounding rocks. “We believe our method holds great potential for eventual widespread use in post-conflict countries, as it increases detection accuracy and allows for rapid wide-area assessment without the need for an operator to come into contact, or even proximity of the minefield,” said Alex Nikulin, assistant professor of energy geophysics.
- Conserving the environment.
Researchers are utilizing drones to follow how coral reefs are responding to climate change, where in the past they would have utilized underwater photography or satellite tech. Meanwhile, Seattle-based Droneseed is sowing seeds in the forests, conveying water, and showering herbicides. You read that right – drones are being used to plant seeds, and water them, how cool! Even in Africa, drones are authorities’ eyes in the sky and help to deter poachers endeavoring to traffic creatures.