Got Drones?

Lately there has been increasing mention of the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for  unexpected purposes.  For example, both India and Namibia have been experimenting with the use of UAVs to control poaching, thanks to a $5 million grant given by Google to the WWF.  Here’s a video showing how it works in Namibia (here’s the view from the air). 

Commonly called drones, UAVs are part of a broader emerging class of vehicles which could include your friendly Roomba, robots that float on or travel under the sea, or land-based robots.  And they’re about to take over.

Drones have gotten a bad rap – essentially we’re talking about remote-controlled vehicles, often with cameras attached.  Which would be a really cool toy to have for making videos.  Not realistic, you say?  Actually, they are amazingly cheap.  You can use sites like DIYDrones to learn how to make your own aerial drones, or, via links on the same site, buy a pretty sophisticated drone with all the trimmings for under $1,000.

Of course, you can pick something up for a few hundred or less at your local electronics shop.  The difference between a “UAV” and a toy RC aircraft is that the UAVs don’t crash when they stray outside your fairly limited transmitter range – they have an autopilot mode.  They’re often a bit bigger and can carry other types of fairly sophisticated electronics.

The growing interest in unmanned aircraft and its possible uses is promising for the field of commercial aviation – and is an area where U.S. companies might have a current advantage against overseas competitors.  However, the field is not without its detractors.  Besides the ongoing debate about overseas drone attacks, there is also growing concern about issues such as privacy or airspace safety in the use of drones at home.  Others worry about more nefarious ends, likening the use of drones to “Big Brother”.

But soon, the drone may be a normal feature of American households.  For example, how about your very own drone scarecrow?  I’m told the garden gnome drone would retail for about $200, which apparently is not quite “commercially viable” for the purpose of scaring away crows.  But it’s only a matter of time before these things come to a garden near you!

Here’s a short video on drones and the ways they’re being increasingly used.

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