Last summer, drones were used to deliver much-needed medical supplies to a pop-up health clinic in rural Virginia. Though such deliveries are still in their infancy, they show a promising future, and could be used to provide aid to people in remote, hard-to-reach areas or to assist victims of disasters.
Inspecting power lines
A growing number of electric utilities throughout the U.S. are turning to drones to inspect their transmission and distribution lines. These drones, outfitted with video cameras, are a much cheaper alternative to what is commonly used now: helicopters.
Drones can be used in a variety of ways on a construction jobsite. While primarily used to monitor the progress of work, they can also come in handy for land surveys, safety inspections, light management, and to protect against theft or trespassing at night.
Finding damaged panels in solar farms
Solar farms can take up thousands of acres of land, and keeping tabs on every single panel is nearly impossible. This is where drones come in. Companies are now using drones to help them spot damaged panels and monitor dirt build up and vegetation growth. These drones can also be outfitted with thermal imaging cameras, enabling them to detect areas where excess heat has built up, thus degrading system performance. In addition to monitoring the panels, drones can also inspect combiner boxes, junction boxes, and other electrical equipment.
Farmers across the country are beginning to use drones more and more. The unmanned vehicles can be used very effectively for crop inspection as well as crop dusting activities.
Domino’s has been trying to get its pizza drones off the ground since 2013, but the “Domicopter” is still hanging out on land, hampered by FAA regulations. Various pizza makers, however, continue to fight on in hopes of getting their pizza airborne. Only time will tell if they’re successful.
Inspecting wind turbines
Inspecting wind turbines is a dangerous affair, sometimes taking place hundreds of feet off the ground. Looking for a safer, more efficient way of doing things? Once again, drones might just be the answer, and a growing number of wind farm owners and maintenance crews are giving them a try.
Storm damage assessment for utility companies
Electric utilities are also beginning to utilize drones to assess storm damage. These UAVs can identify precise locations where damage has occurred and help utility crews restore power in the area as quickly as possible.
Chances are you’ve heard of Amazon’s plan to deliver packages with drones. While they still have a number of hurdles to overcome, the retail giant hopes to get these drones in the air as soon as possible, moving ahead with development of drones capable of delivering 5-lb packages within 30 minutes of a person’s order. Google, meanwhile, hopes to have its own fleet of package-delivery drones up and running as soon as 2017. Most experts believe, however, that it will take several years before either can realistically get going.
Search & rescue
It can be extremely difficult to locate and rescue victims of natural disasters. Meanwhile, of course, time is of the essence. This is where drones come in. They can go places unsafe for emergency personnel, they can explore areas of rugged terrain quickly, and a new model by drone manufacturer Flyability can even explore glacier crevasses — areas of particular danger for mountaineers.
The U.S. Navy has been developing underwater spy drones for years now. According to National Interest, Russia is working on the same thing — developing its own unmanned surface and underwater vehicles. Such underwater drones, if perfected, could revolutionize naval surveillance techniques and potentially naval warfare as a whole.
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Chinese drone maker EHang recently revealed its EHang 184 at the Consumer Electronics Conference in Las Vegas. The company claims it can carry a 220-pound person for over 20 minutes, which would likely transport them around 10 miles. The person would not be the pilot — they would simply enter a location into an app, then hop in and enjoy the ride, only uttering the commands “take off” and “land.” It comes equipped with air conditioning, a reading light, and can fit in a standard parking space.