THE DRONE REVOLUTION IS HERE
The defining characteristic of humans is the rapid pace at which we innovate. Our use of tools is what defines us as a species, and our mastery and domestication of animals is what has set us apart as unique from other inhabitants of this planet.
Tools extended the capabilities of humans beyond their own bodies while domesticated animals allowed for a more semi-autonomous relationship and many practical uses.
Drones are technological marvels that blend aspects of both these concepts. They can be used remotely, are capable of tasks like travel, surveillance, and with new technology like Artificial Intelligence (AI), are now able to operate autonomously.
Many of you may already have some idea of what a drone is.
The average person in Fiji pictures a modern camera drone when they hear the word ‘drone’ but the truth is drones have been around for longer than you might think.
This article explores the origins, present and future of drones.
The term drone was coined in reference to early remotely-flown target aircraft used for practice firing of a battleship’s guns and the term was first used in 1946. Because drones are unmanned, they help preserve human life, time and money.
For most of history, drones were used for military purposes until the late 1960s when surveillance gained an increased role in reconnaissance.
By the 1990s, drones had been adopted on a much wider scale and played more prominent roles in wars. We became accustomed to hearing the term ‘drone’ in media and it entered the public vocabulary in its current recognizable form.
In the last decade or so, development and refinement of various technologies like quadcopters (meaning it has four rotors), and better computer systems and electronic technology led to a new generation of drones that were cheaper, easier to fly and more applicable to general use. While sharing the same name, these drones were capable of feats that previous generations could only dream of, for just a fraction of the cost. A far cry from their predecessors, modern quadcopter drones are now a pervasive part of society and have a variety of non-military applications with the most widely seen use of drones being in the field of photography and videography. The most popular brand of consumer drones is DJI, with Parrot being a close second.
In Fiji, a drone no longer seems out of place at events like festivals, concerts or sports events as photographers and videographers use them to get the perfect aerial shot. Most companies that cover weddings now have a drone as an essential part of their arsenal. The Tourism industry has found it a boon to their marketing as the natural beauty of the islands can be shown in their full splendour much more easily.
In the past getting footage and shots of the more inaccessible (which are often beautiful) areas of Fiji was especially costly, requiring the use of film crews and helicopters.
When it comes to surveying and mapping, you can capture imagery of up to 300 acres in under two hours of flight time. This can take days using legacy methods.
Investing six thousand dollars on a high-end drone is cheaper than constantly hiring a plane to capture imagery. A definite plus. There is also a burgeoning community of local drone enthusiasts on Facebook with hundreds of Fijians who work with drones in their jobs and those who simply find drones interesting. While we generally mean quadcopter aerial drones when we refer to drones there are other kinds of drones that are adapted for different uses. Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROV) and Autonomous Underwater Vehicles (AUVs) are deployed in underwater environments. This is useful since they are unmanned and can be sent to hazardous areas. Some future uses for drones are in fields like delivery, whether it is food, products or mail.
Facebook is even working on a series of high-altitude, solar-powered drones that will be able to blanket the world with Wi-Fi internet access.
More impressively, there are even plans to develop a series of autonomous, flying ambulances! They will be able to land at the scene of an accident and transport patients to the nearest hospital - all without the need of a human pilot. As drone technology continues to improve, other uses are becoming possible. For example, newer drones like DJI’s Phantom 4 introduced smart computer vision and machine learning technology which allows it to avoid obstacles and intelligently track targets rather than being limited to following a GPS signal.
In Fiji, this technology can be applied to search and rescue, especially during natural disasters. Multiple units can be deployed instead of endangering people, and wasting time and fuel using traditional aircraft.
Agriculture can also utilise drones, allowing farmers to see their fields from a bird’s eye view and will help monitor crop growth and yield, ultimately increasing farm efficiency.
What will be the myriad of uses for drones in the future? What will be the implications for island nations like Fiji where our 300+ islands are not a contiguous land mass?
Well, we could drone on, but time will only tell. The sky is literally the limit!
Until next week, happy flying!
A drone with a camera.