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Drones are helping to protect the environment in novel ways

Drone technology is advancing in novel ways. As an example, researchers have begun to use special computer algorithms to control drones. In addition, drones are being equipped with new types of sensors to take readings or they have advanced cameras that allow 3D models to be produced from images. AI is also making drones safer, such as avoiding collisions and boosting the probability of detecting drones and reducing fault detections.

One area where there have been advances in drone technology and application is with conservation work. Three examples are outlined below.

UAV’s used to patrol forests to monitor for environmental and ecological changes

British scientists have developed drones that are able to position sensors onto trees for the purpose of monitoring the environmental and ecological changes in forests. Following a proof-of-concept study, the longer-term aim is to use drones to help to create networks of sensors that can collect more meaningful data pertaining to forest ecosystems.

As an example, the scientists from Imperial College London are keen to use drones in order to track hard-to-navigate biomes such as the Amazon rainforest. The type of data collected will aid in conservation projects.

The technology works through drones being equipped with cameras tat guide the drone to identify a suitable target. The drone then launches a smart material that changes shape when heated to launch dart-like sensors. The sensors then remain affixed to trees, collecting valuable information.

The technology is featured in the journal IEEE Robotics and Automation Letters, with the research paper headed “Unmanned Aerial Sensor Placement for Cluttered Environments.”

Monitoring hippos

An altogether different application of ecologically-tuned drone technology is with using a drone to film hippos in Africa. This has been shown to be an effective and affordable tool for conservationists, allowing them to monitor threatened species populations. With the example, studies from the University of New South Wales show that drone method just as effective as land surveys in estimating hippo numbers.

A related advantage with drones is that the technology enables monitoring to be conducted at a from a safe distance, especially for remote and aquatic areas.

These benefits form the basis of a paper published in the journal PLoS One, titled “Drone-based effective counting and ageing of hippopotamus (Hippopotamus amphibius) in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.”

Fruit farming

Agricultural managers are starting to use drones more often in order to become more efficient. One area is with fruit farming, and it has been shown that drones can help farmers to improve yields and stay ahead of problems before they become too large.

Examples include:

taking inventory of tree height and canopy volume;
monitoring tree health and quality;
managing water, nutrients, pests and disease in-season;
estimating fruit/nut production and yield; and,
creating marketing tools (videos for promotion of the orchard, or sale of trees and fruit).

Understanding the growth of crops and any risks are strengthened through using drones capable of taking high quality images and high-resolution spectral data.

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Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, business, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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