Editor’s Note: This blog was originally published in the Editor’s Note section of the April 2015 print edition.
While consumer drones are often the vilified as a dangerous—or at best annoying—technology slowly easing us into a world where constant surveillance is the norm, that’s not always the case. Yes, some drones are being used for nefarious purposes and some are just in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that doesn’t make them all inherently dangerous.
So, dear readers, brace yourself for several hundred words where I talk about how we should all be using drones. (Spoiler: Recommended uses do not include attaching a weapon to
Drones, like any technology, can be used for good or for evil. Many of the good uses involve taking advantage of the fact that drones are capable of covering large swaths of land faster—and probably more cheaply—than a human would be able to. This makes them ideal for hunting poachers in large animal reservations.
The Air Shepard program in Kruger Park and Ezemvelo Nature Reserve, both located in South Africa, is one these programs. The team uses all types of drones, some custom, that are able to work in the dark and send thermal images of the animals and poachers back to the mobile command center. Once the information is received, rangers are able to intercept the poachers before they strike. It’s an important mission given that illegal wildlife trade is big business for those in the criminal line of work. The locations were chosen very specifically to protect the most vulnerable populations. Ezemvelo is home to 2,500 Rhinos, while Kruger hosts about 65 percent of the world’s entire Rhino population. This is not a low stakes game either; a single rhino horn can fetch up to $500,000 on the black market.
In a much less dramatic, but equally important role, drones afford researchers better opportunities to study certain populations. One study found populations of frigatebirds, terns, and penguins were less startled by drones observations than human counters. Plus, the unique angle of the drones meant the counts were more accurate. Drones can also access populations of animals that humans could never reach, which means researchers will be able to learn more about Earth’s ecosystem.
The lesson is that all drones are not being used to spy on you while you sleep or for any evil at all. Some groups have found a way to use the technology for good. And you can’t argue with the results when the Ezemvelo park has brought their Rhino deaths down to exactly zero in the past six months.
Filed Under: Aerospace + defense