Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Nope, it’s the latest DJI Mavic drone zooming over our heads!
Popularised by companies like Parrot and DJI, drones have become a staple in the filmmaking industry among many others.
From package deliveries to battlefield reconnaissance, the application of drones in the modern world is forever increasing with no limits in sight.
My grandma swears these birds with batteries are just a tool used by hipsters to film their pumpkin latte up from the sky. I’ve tried to convince her otherwise, but let’s say that my “attack” on her freedom of opinion was NOT taken kindly.
With drones ever increasingly invading the biggest industries (and our privacy), it is not surprising to spot them around frequently.
In today’s article, we will explore how drones are turning the science fiction of yesterday into the reality of tomorrow.
1. Package Delivery
It might be insane to envision this right now but imagine a drone dropping off your brand new iPhone, which you ordered just 4 hours ago.
Traditionally, inefficient sloths a.k.a. humans have been stocking, organizing and delivering your packages at a rather crawling pace. With the advent of robots which maintain and organize inventories in warehouses, drones will complete this system of superhuman efficiency by delivering your packages exactly where you are.
Amazon is currently experimenting with such drones, and they are quite promising! Even if you may have ordered the package to your house and left for work, a drone can track you and change it’s flight path to get your current location. No more worrying about porch pirates and staying home to receive that important package!
2. Firefighting Drones
Ever seen those ugly white circles in shopping malls and wondered what they do? They are fire detection alarms but wait, that’s it. They are just alarms that scream “HEY, THIS BUILDING IS ON FIRE”. I am pretty sure none of us would like to be charred to death; that’s where firefighting drones come into the picture.
A Latvian company named Aerones has developed a drone which attaches itself to a water pipe and then sprinkles a fine stream of water to extinguish the blaze. Some models even have a carbon dioxide based extinguisher which starves the fire of oxygen!
3. Space Exploration
Here’s a secret I haven’t shared with you: NASA and I have something in common!
We’ve both had enough of the Martian surface pictures. At this point, it’s beginning to look like the same barren red landscape as the many times before.
Since my lazy ass couldn’t be bothered to become an astronaut, NASA stepped in and developed a drone that can fly in Mars’s extremely thin atmosphere! How thin, you ask? A 100 times thinner than Earth’s atmosphere!
Given the challenges posed by the thin Martian atmosphere, the drone will only be able to fly for 90 seconds but up to a whopping 1000m. That is mindblowing considering its mere 1.8 kg weight!
To be flown on the Mars 2020 mission, the JPL Mars Helicopter Scout will deliver truly spectacular, never-seen-before perspectives of the Martian landscape.
That expensive fitness tracker on your wrist surely counts your steps accurately but does it tell if you’re running correctly? Before you ask: yes, there are WRONG ways to run!
Decades of research has clearly demonstrated the ill effects of improper running techniques on our feet, knees, and back. While there have been labs where a person can run on a treadmill, let’s face it, running on a treadmill isn’t exactly mimicking your natural running style.
To obliterate this problem, drones equipped with depth information sensors and multiple cameras can be utilized to analyze stride length, frequency, and velocity. Obtaining these vital parameters allows the system to create a better picture of your body’s structure and the best running form suitable for your unique body!
5. Law Enforcement
Remember those flying orbs used by the police in the futuristic “Minority Report”? That future may not be too far as the police are already starting to employ military-grade drones.
Equipped with heat vision cameras, these new breeds of drones come with an unprecedented ability to track criminals on the loose, be it day or night.
In fact, a few bills are under consideration to equip these drones with lethal weapons. If approved, they can be used as an effective countermeasure in hostage situations to reduce the risk posed to the officers significantly.
Want your own mansion where you can sit on a throne like a monarch? Sorry, it’s going to take two years to build. Starting from the design process to constructing homes, it takes an average of 2 years for the average project to be completed.
In the near future, we could see a swarm of drones working in harmony to rapidly lay bricks and cement on top of each other to construct buildings in a matter of weeks only.
Just imagine for a second. You log on to a website, choose a home design, enter the GPS location of your lot and boom! Your personal fleet of drones is on its way to bring that dream home of yours out of the dream. How’s that for automation?
With almost 800 million people sleeping hungry every day, scientists have tried every trick in the book to boost crop growth, but they have been unable to cope up with the explosive population growth.
A lot of problems plague food production such as pests, disease, climate change and depleting water levels.
To combat these adversities, drones are being outfitted with soil quality sensors, high definition cameras, humidity sensors, and chemical sprinklers. It enables them to monitor nitrogen and moisture levels in the soil automatically. They can also detect pathogen causing diseases in the soil, capture a photo of the affected area and sprinkle it with suitable chemicals to stop the spread of the disease.
If all of this indirectly leads to more pasta on my plate, this would arguably be my favorite use of drone technology on this entire list!
8. Waste Management
Humans can accomplish wonderful feats like sending men to the moon, but on the flip side, they possess the ability to behave like animals too. One of the most common examples of this can be seen in megacities where people leave trash all over the roads, parks, and pools. Even though we are the most intelligent creatures on this planet, we tend to litter our environment worse than any other species!
Recent developments in artificial intelligence have significantly pushed computers to recognize objects more accurately. Coupled with capable cameras, drones can quickly identify pieces of trash, pick them up using a robotic arm and dump them in the right kind of trash can (biodegradable anyone?).
9. Flying Ambulances
In the US, 1 in every four deaths is due to a cardiac arrest. This goes on to show how possible it is for our loved ones to pass away like this. Most people aren’t even aware of how to react in such a situation and lack the proper tools or knowledge to help the patient.
Developed by TU Delft, the “Ambulance Drone” is a normal drone retrofitted with a defibrillator and a video camera. It can be dispatched to a 911 callers GPS location in a matter of minutes only. The operator can instruct the caller on how to use the onboard defibrillator while watching via a live stream to make sure everything is done correctly.
10. Humanitarian Aid
The dry continent of Africa has barely any vegetation or clean water access to support its population. As a result, millions of children are malnourished and ravaged by the simplest of diseases.
Even though there are hundreds of humanitarian organizations distributing food to these impoverished groups, corruption has lead to a situation where this free food is provided in exchange for slavery and prostitution.
Employing drones to cut the middlemen and directly deliver food packages to these people has the potential to severely curb the rampant crime plaguing the continent. A more exciting possibility is using facial recognition to identify a person and not providing them more than their share!
11. Wildlife Conservation
Our species has driven a lot of other lifeforms to the brink of extinction by polluting the environment, destroying forests and poaching. Scientists have repeatedly warned us about the dangers of creating an imbalance in the ecosystem.
While we do have satellites to monitor mass migrations of animals, we cannot determine their exact numbers from so high up in the sky. Forest rangers cannot be everywhere at once either. Poachers use this fact to their advantage to hunt endangered animals such as elephants and rhinos for their tusks and horns.
Luckily, some companies are working hard to save the day with the help of drones. These solar-powered machines will come with sensors that could track the exact number of the animals in a herd and report immediately if there is any drop.
Automated patrolling of the forest like this will help the authorities swiftly track down any poaching activity before the offenders even get a chance to escape!
Gone are the days of biplanes with banners tied to their tails, zooming around the sky. Exorbitant prices charged for high-octane and lower visibility at high altitudes quickly killed the aerial advertisement industry, save for a few billion-dollar brands using them.
Companies like DroneCast have introduced game-changing advertising platforms which consist of video screens and banners attached to the drones. High up in the sky, or down low in conference rooms, they can be deployed anywhere at the touch of a button.
More ads, yay! In case it isn’t obvious, I’m just being sarcastic.
13. Food Delivery
We’ve all had that painful experience of signaling the overworked waiter at a restaurant, only to be ignored by them. What if you could just select the food items that you want on your phone and have them delivered to your table by some little flying robotic waiters?
Infinium Robotics implemented this exact idea in Singaporean restaurants to counter service staff shortage. The disc-shaped drones zip around to your table, detect if you have taken your food off of them and then zip right back to the kitchen for the next trip!
14. Augmented Reality Gaming
I’ve always wished to command the fighter spacecraft from Star Wars as a kid. My inner child still wishes to blow up a couple of enemy ships in outer space, but sadly, we are light years away from that dream. Fret not, there are alternative cheap thrills on the horizon for all of us!
Such competitions are only destined to become more popular with time, as more people are choosing to forego virtual games in lieu of augmented reality.
The number of news reporters has lost their lives in the line of duty is unfortunate. The vast majority of them were reporting straight from active warzones, battlefields and even radiation prone areas.
While most companies have accepted it as a cost of doing business, CNN Air is an initiative by CNN to cover the news using the latest tech to maximize the safety of their reporters. The program utilizes small, lightweight drones to ensure longer flight times.
CNN’s Senior Director of National News Technology and Aerial Imagery & Reporting, Mr. Greg Agvent said that the traditional way of using a helicopter is far from ideal with all the noise that comes with it. He said that the latest drone technology is allowing them to achieve superior results while ensuring the safety of their crew at the same time. The added reduction in costs is just the icing on the cake.
16. Mesh Networking
I remember why I had such a great time on Havelock Island in India: there was no internet or cell reception, anywhere. Nil. Zilch. Nada.
A Latvian startup named SPH Engineering has developed specialized hardware and software for their drones, which enables them to strategically reposition themselves so that they can repeat signals from a cell tower to areas with weaker reception.
This can prove very useful for remote tourist areas and emergency situations.
I believe this is the most obvious use case for drones but still decided to shed some light on how important it is for filmmakers.
In the past, producers needed to rent expensive helicopters with specially rigged cameras which resisted vibration. What we saw on the screen for a short while, cost the producers tens of thousands of dollars a minute.
With the advent of cheap drones, producers can invest that budget into better CGI and your favorite A-list celebrities (I secretly wish for Bruce Willis in every movie).
18. Drug Trade
No, I am not talking about cough syrups here. You know how criminals come up with the most ingenious ideas, right? Well, it’s not a surprise then that drones became a useful tool in the arsenal of drug lords.
Huge drones like DJI’s Matrice 600 span nearly 1.6 meters with cameras. They’re designed to lug around heavy film-grade equipment.
With flight times ranging between 18 to 40 minutes (depending on cargo weight) and top speeds of 64 kmph, these drones are invaluable for transporting illicit goods across the border. You bet Pablo Escobar would have pre-ordered a few (or many!) of these.
19. Military Reconnaissance and Defense
Saving American soldiers from facing the brunt of surprise enemy attacks is what brought on the modern era of drones. There was a time when drones were exclusive to the military; expensive and hard to manufacture.
In the 21st century, the US military has slapped weapons on to their existing fleet of drones, using them to wipe out terrorist training camps in the middle east effectively. Donning state of the art vision systems, mapping enemy territory becomes a piece of cake for these merchants of death.
Several governments have praised the usage of drones for wiping out terrorists while others have strongly condemned it, citing it as barbaric!
While I cannot comment on how ethical it is, I am not against eliminating agents of terrorism. Here’s to hoping that it will be used for that alone.
20. Disaster Relief
The live broadcast videos of the injured, starving and sick people during Hurricane Katrina still haunts my mind to this day. All of them were stuck in inaccessible places without help for days at a stretch. A lack of helicopters coupled with the unpredictable path of the Hurricane ensured that these people wouldn’t meet any relief efforts.
Fortunately, things are not so bleak due to recent initiatives by several governments to incorporate drones into disaster relief efforts. Organizations like the Humanitarian UAV Network have brought together thousands of people to raise awareness regarding the usage of drones in such scenarios to provide food, water, medicine, first aid supplies, and communications.
21. Dog Walking Drone
Okay, now this one might be overkill and may lead to your dog not loving you. Dog lovers, bear with me on this one.
Dogs are basically mountains of love and energy compressed into small packages. However, it can be hard to walk your dog sometimes, owing to your tight and tiring work schedule.
A young company, Proflight Walkies, has proposed an insane idea which involves strapping your dog’s leash to their drone, which will then fly around a predefined path around your house. Sounds good? Not to me, I prefer my dog interacting with a human rather than an emotionless machine.
With everything said and done, it is an undeniable fact that drones are taking over the entire world quite literally. Or perhaps even worlds if the Mars 2020 mission goes as planned.
Just imagine having your own personal “assistant drone” always at the ready to fulfill your commands. I honestly can’t wait for that since I’m lazy even when it comes to getting the remote from the other room.
Now it’s your turn. Which of these 21 usages got you excited the most? Let us know in the comment section below. I’m sure the rest of the community would love to hear your thoughts as well.