There is so much polemic surrounding the use of drones these days that it can get frustrating for somebody who also sees the positive contributions the technology can make. Never mind the great potential unmanned technology has for driving innovation and getting youngsters interested in STEM (something that is severely needed).
Of course there are lots of questions to be raised about the use of unmanned systems (and remotely piloted aircraft in particular) in military conflict. These topics have been, and still are, debated at length in the media, wikipedia, and blogs such as DroneWarsUK. Instead, like Drones For Good, I will focus on some of the positive projects the technology has enabled in the humanitarian, environmental, and social space. I am not the only one who would welcome more balanced coverage here.
What follows is a list of the main projects I found to be active in the environmental / humanitarian space. If there are particular projects I have missed (and I’m certain there are) do let me know via the comments.
- OpenRelief: a project started by Shane Coughlan that aims to develop better communications tools for disaster relief. They are building a fully open source airframe that can be used for quickly mapping disaster areas and carrying radiation and smoke detectors among other sensors.
- Conservation Drones: Here the mission is to share knowledge for building low-cost drones to help conservation workers and researchers in developing countries do their jobs a lot more effectively and cost efficiently. The focus is on low-cost avionics and airframes that you can easily assemble yourself and on applications in surveying and mapping forests and biodiversity. Founded at ETH Zurich, users include WWF, RSPB, Greenpeace, and the team is closely affiliated with Research Drones.
- ShadowView: a non profit that provides effective and efficient Unmanned Aerial Systems for non-profit and civilian operations. Key potential areas of operation are: conservation, search and recovery, infrastructure monitoring, civilian security, transport, and media filming. They have two fixed wing airframes (of which the OpenRanger one is based upon the AirRanger from SPOTS International) and one mulicopter UAV. OpenPilot is used as the autopilot.
- Matternet: a startup working on implementing an autonomous transport system for delivery of high-value goods (pharmaceuticals, electronics) to developing countries and/or rugged locations where the roads are so few and/or terrible that UAVs become the superior option. Their idea is for drone transportation to leapfrog trucks in those areas in the same way the cell phones leapfrogged land lines.
Together these form a nice set of examples of the potential benefits UAS technology can bring. This only adds to the huge potential there is for the technology in general civil applications (already well under way).
Finally, from an educational standpoint there is the enormous creative potential of resources like DIY Drones, Lets Build Robots, and projects such as Ardupilot and OpenROV. Together with things like Raspberry-Pi and Parallella the amount of (educational) fun to be had for just a few hundred bucks is stellar.
I really need more time.