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7 Ways Drones Are Actually Being Used Today

For decades all we knew of drones was that they look cool, are used by the military, and are called Predators. Fast forward to the last few years they’re being developed for seemingly every job a human can do, but especially the ones too “dull, dirty or dangerous” for humans.
The quadcopter has become the most  recognizable consumer design, thanks to its maneuverability. The winged-drone is best for high-speed, high-altitude, and long-range/duration missions (all things the military needs). High altitude flight and carrying cruise missiles is not really what a DJI Phantom was built for.
Sophisticated drone technology now costs a similar amount as a laptop or mobile phone. Low-cost models can be had for about $20 — but we’d recommend something like this one with a 720p camera for gifts. Combined with advances in autonomous navigation and artificial intelligence, drones could be used for seemingly unlimited things in the future.
Today the FAA’s regulation on drone flights rightly keeps this in check. We’ve avoided having lots of mid-air collisions thus far. Unchecked proliferation of drones without setting boundaries will make our skies and our ground more dangerous.

Here are the ways drones are used today:

1. Delivery

Amazon is rolling out drones capable of cutting delivery times down to half an hour. Using buckets the drones can carry 5 pounds (2.2kg). It may not sound like a lot, but 86% of Amazon deliveries weigh less. Current Federal Aviation Administration regulations require drones to fly within the operator’s line of sight at all times. Amazon Prime Air is a fully autonomous system, it just isn’t legal. The line of sight ruling hinders many activities we’re going to cover here. However, for those already breaking the law drones offer new ways to smuggle.

Amazon has filed all sorts of patents for the underlying technology behind the logistics of mass drone delivery. They’ve filed patents for drone warehouses, city “drone hives” similar to a bee hive, and probably the coolest — the drone blimp mothership. Check out Amazon’s video of their working but not-yet-legal drone:

2. Shooting Video

Drones make it possible for amateur filmmakers to get aerial shots sans helicopter. This is enabling things that the general population was never able to experience, at the same time cutting costs off of aerial photography in a huge way. Call it Zen and the Art of Helicopter Maintenance.

All you have to do is take a look at YouTube and see all the incredible videos being taken by amateur videographers — like this 4K drone video in Hawaii:

3. Law Enforcement and War

As you can imagine the impact of low cost drones on law enforcement is simply revolutionary. If you’d like to see in depth how drones are being used by law enforcement today check out this great infographic put together by Dronefly with 6 ways drones are being used by law enforcement. There are some really interesting use cases for drones in law enforcement. In a nutshell, law enforcement is currently only approved for peaceful use of drones, meaning no use of force.

Then there’s war… the dark side of drones. We won’t go too far into how drones are being used to stalk and murder people in the military because quite honestly that’s been well covered in the media and pretty depressing. Let’s just say there are things flying in the that can kill you where you are at almost any moment — like the up to 804 innocent civilians that were killed during the 8 years of Obama’s presidency (not a political statement — just the facts of how the times are changing).

4. Drone Racing

Drone racing using first person cameras and a set of VR goggles is the good clean fun way of modifying drones. You can get a really good first person view (FPV) racing drone on Amazon for a just a few hundred dollars. Why can’t I be a kid growing up now??

5. Surveillance Drones

In combat and in regular life drones are used to monitor things, people and places. FAA regulation limits the true range of drone usage in business surveillance. State surveillance of citizens does not rely as heavily on drones. Some have use in specific situations such as during protests or other large events. One of the most extreme publicly acknowledged surveillance drones we’ve seen is the British Black Hornet Nano UAV:

6. Agriculture

Agriculture is the drone application that I’m most optimistic about.. A birds eye view of land using an array of cameras can offer farmers ways to track and monitor conditions. 3D mapping can increase effective use of resources like water and fertilizers. And most recently there’s this completely earth shattering DJI MG-1S fertilizer drone being used by Zhu Hualiang:

7. Hunting hurricanes with drones

NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Northrop Grumman hope to track storms as they evolve using drones. The Global Hawk will be able to fly for 30 hours straight, covering as much as 11,000 miles in that time. Swarm technology is also used in climate science. A team from the University of Florida is using drones only six inches long to form a swarm which move within the storm. The complex data collected as they go and helps to model complex flows.

Not long ago we witnessed the impact of what drones can do during a hurricane disaster with Hurricane Harvey. The relief and data collection that drones can provide during a natural disaster is unprecedented. When roads are blocked even to boats there’s no option but to approach by air — and hurricane winds are incredibly dangerous to helicopter crew.

Even critical infrastructure like telecommunications were revived by drones during Hurricane Harvey. What we’re seeing is bird-like mobility with the precision and quality video footage of a movie studio all at the cost of an operator — and who knows how long we’ll need those.

While cost isn’t really a concern during when so many lives are at stake, it is great to know that for the $24,475 cost of one single hour in a military helicopter, we could have Predator drones in the air at $3,679 per hour. But that’s insane, natural disasters don’t need Predators, wars do. The reality of it is we can now send out a swarm of practically unlimited high-end consumer drones for just the cost of a pilot — if they aren’t volunteering their time during such a disaster.

Do you have a novel use for drones to add to this list? Send us a message with your suggestions!

About the author

Mathew Sayer

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