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article imageEssential Science: Big advances with drone technology

By Tim Sandle     Sep 2, 2019 in Science
The application of drones continues to increase, for consumer deliveries, hobby use, and with military deployment. At the same time, drone technology is also advancing. This week we look at three innovations with drone technology.
Drone technology is on the move. This year has revealed that Uber Technologies are considering the feasibility of using drone technology to bolster its Uber Eats business. In addition, Amazon is developing a “surveillance as a service” option to enhance drone deliveries. Here a drone dropping of a package in the future could also carry out a security sweep of your property.
Drones are also a developing area of military technology and for security missions. In addition, such is the level of suspicion between some states the U.S. government has issued warnings about Chinese manufactured drones, centered on a concern about giving spy agencies in Beijing "unfettered access" to stolen data.
There are still safety concerns with drones. For example, during August 2019 it was reported that as a drone fell out of the sky and crashed a few yards away from a group of children in Switzerland. This has led to the suspension of the entire drone delivery network for the operating company involved.
Israel's pioneering unmanned aircraft long dominated the skies over the Middle East but its foe...
Israel's pioneering unmanned aircraft long dominated the skies over the Middle East but its foes are now challenging its drone supremacy
DAVID FURST, AFP/File
Despite such issues, drone technology remains on an upward trajectory. We look art three examples of drone innovation.
Space drones
NASA is planning to use drones on future space missions. The space agency is planning to spend $1 billion on a project called ‘Dragonfly’. This will include deploying ‘space drones’ to study Saturn’s moon Titan (a world that may include habitable conditions).
Since Titan has an atmosphere similar to Earth’s it should be possible to launch drones from spacecraft t assess conditions on the moon. For this to work, the drone needs to be nuclear-powered. Furthermore, the drone will need special shielding to protect it from radioactive decay.
The Dragonfly drones will assess planetary processes for water and carbon compounds, studying weather patterns. As NASA’s Jim Bridenstine says in a statement: “With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do. Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.”
Stealth drones that can self-destruct
Around the world drones are being used for various military operations, especially for spying and scouting missions. A major issues arises for the side that deploys such hardware when aircraft become captured or if they accidentally crash, since subsequent analysis can reveal intelligence or technology and place this into the hands of the enemy.
To overcome this, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a self-destructing polymer which can spontaneously disintegrate upon exposure to sunlight or artificial light. This is due, Laboratory Roots reports, to the presence of a photo-activating catalyst which triggers the process of depolymerization.
The following video reveals more about the remarkable material:
The polymer can also be used to improve upon material properties through the use of additives, such as becoming more rigid (which can be used for gliders) or becoming elastic (as for use with parachutes).
South Korea aims to establish a 'public drone delivery system'  the government said
South Korea aims to establish a 'public drone delivery system', the government said
handout, SOUTH KOREA'S INTERIOR AND SAFETY MINISTRY/AFP
Furthermore, these polymers could also be used someday in building materials or environmental sensors. The research findings were presented at the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2019 National Meeting and Exposition in San Diego.
Drones that can swim as well as fly
Imagine a drone that cope with different conditions – air and water. Such a drone that can fly and swim is in development. The drone is called the Loon Copter, and it is designed in such a way that when it encounters a body of water, it floats upon its surface as a boat would. This happens as a special tank on the bottom of the Loon Copter fills with water on just one side so that the craft falls through the surface of the water sideways. This activity allows the drone to maintain a sideways orientation as it travels under water, controlled via its propellers.
The same propellers are used to control momentum and direction in the air as well. When the drone is ready to leave the water and go back to being airborne.
Essential Science
This article is part of Digital Journal's regular Essential Science columns. Each week Tim Sandle explores a topical and important scientific issue. Last week we looked at new carbon atoms which are spherical, and which have several key industrial uses, promising improvements to electronic devices.
The week before we discussed how scientists working on Switzerland have refined the CRISPR-Cas gene editing method. Through this modification it is now possible for researchers to modify dozens of genes within a cell simultaneously, thereby speeding up the process.
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