THE DRONE REV­O­LU­TION IS HERE

Fiji Sun - - Nation - The First Drones The Mod­ern Drone Age Fu­tur­is­tic Drones Let’s ex­plore a few of them. Feed­back: [email protected]­jisun.com.fj

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.

Not any­more.

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.

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