A shorter version of this article originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of WiFi HiFi Magazine.
Chances are you're familiar with the most common uses for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): aerial photography, cinematography, real estate, farming, and, of course, fun free-flying. But there are plenty of other potential uses for drones that may never even have crossed your mind.
Did you know that more than 20 schools across North America are already offering or developing courses specifically about UAVs and how to use them in different environments? Among the list is Toronto's Humber College, which has the first UAV school in Canada.
Upon investigation, it's clear that each out-of-the-box application for drones is more fascinating than the next.
We talked to two experts in the field; Douglas Spotted Eagle, Manager/Category Sales Professional Video/UAV/Audio/POV at Henry's and John Minor, Provost, Unmanned Vehicle University and a retired U.S. Air Force officer; to delve deeper into how drones can be, and are being, used beyond the typical. The list could fill an entire issue. But here are a few truly intriguing ways.
1.BUILDING AND HOME SURVEILLANCE
Consider drones your security guard in the sky. For industrial or manufacturing complexes, or other security-conscious areas (airports, casinos, college campuses), drones with a motion detection camera can be programmed to fly a perimeter, spot an intruder or identify a problem, and record the scene. Like a Roomba robot vacuum, says Spotted Eagle, the drone flies around, returns to its charging base, then resumes after a computer-controlled period of time. If constant surveillance is needed, two might alternate with one another. Minor says the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol has already confiscated more than US$1.1 billion in contraband using Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) support from drones. For home use, he cites the example of a small security drone that can spot a disturbance, and immediately contact law enforcement, set off an alarm to wake you up, and commission other drones to illuminate the intruder and take photos. "If an intruder steps out of a camera's field of vision, sprays the camera dome with paint, or covers it with dark material, it is rendered useless," he says. "Drones operate out-of-reach."
Photo by Bob Pritchard
2.ORDER, FOLLOW, PROTECT
Rather than surveill a single location, drones can also be set to follow a female walking alone at night, or a driver wanting real-time weather or traffic information. In San Francisco, CA, GoFor offers an Uber-like, drones-on-demand service. You can "order" a drone from your phone when desired to perform one of five preset tasks, like snapping photos for "super selfies" or security purposes, finding and holding a parking spot, or simply having some free-flying fun.
3.DELIVERING LIFE-SAVING MEDICINE/MEDICAL SUPPLIES
Ever heard of Google's Project Wing? It has been used to deliver life-saving medical supplies to remote locations, like Nepal after its earthquake. A drone can travel to locales people can't, and efficiently deliver vital items, like medication. They've already been field-tested in other cases as well: Mayo Clinic reports that, "Doctors Without Borders used them to transport dummy TB test samples from a remote village to the large coastal city of Kerema." And during the floods in Texas, CNBC notes that drones were used to deliver flotation devices to those who were stranded.
In Holland, says Spotted Eagle, there's a system that consists of a defibrillator built into a drone. The drone can reach a site far faster than a fire station or ambulance could, traveling up to five miles in about five minutes, with a 10-mile radius from its home point. Once it arrives, the camera and communication device connects to a hospital where a doctor or nurse can walk someone through how to get the defibrillator onto the distressed person until help arrives. "If you walk through an airport or shopping mall today," says Spotted Eagle, "you'll see defibrillators on the walls. This just provides another access [point]." Minor adds that only 8% of people in Europe who suffer from cardiac arrest survive due to slow response times of emergency services. "The ambulance-drone is capable of saving lives."
5.SEARCH AND RESCUE
While he's not at liberty to disclose which one, Spotted Eagle says one police department in Ontario is already using UAVs as part of a new Child Finder Project. The drone is equipped with a flare or IR camera that can detect body heat from great distances. The device is used exclusively to find a lost child in the woods, and can accomplish this both more cost-effectively than other methods, and more quickly. The drones can also be used to locate a body that hasn't been deceased for too long, and thus IS still giving off body heat.