5 ways drones make a positive social impact

Drones are a lot more about just saving companies money and time (and time is money). And while drones certainly bring enormous financial benefits, it’s increasingly clear that drones provide a less quantifiable — but still apparent — social impact.

Much of that was laid out in a report released today that was put together by drone mapping software company DroneDeploy, dubbed the DroneDeploy Social Impact Report. As part of that report comes some interesting stats on how drones have served the greater world, whether it’s crisis response, building more sustainable communities, providing STEM education, and more. And with that, here are 5 ways that drones make a positive social impact, beyond just making money for businesses:

1. Protecting the environment

Glaciers are melting, shorelines are changing, and fossil fuels use is often rising. A key step in enabling climate change mitigation messages is actually documenting those things, which is where drones come into play. Drones can monitor and measure the effects of climate change, whether it’s flying a shoreline every day to document change over time, or gathering thermal data with specialized cameras.

In one project from the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences, drones are monitoring the Great Barrier Reef by surveying lagoons and the reefs themselves. AIMS, which formerly gathered samples manually, now uses drones to monitor changes throughout the reef over time to understand the regional scales of their health and sustainability.

2. Natural disaster crisis response

From earthquakes to hurricanes to volcano eruptions, drones are quickly flying in to help in the immediate recovery efforts. For example, during April 2021’s volcano eruption in Saint Vincent, a Canadian-based nonprofit called GlobalMedic that was deployed to assist the local governments in damage assessments. And, they brought a drone with them, enabling them to map the island and identify high-priority infrastructure projects.

And during the recent 7.2-magnitude earthquake in Haiti, a local non-profit called ADF Haiti also used drones to map 4 small towns, using the imagery for damage assessment.

A child holds a drone in June 2017 as part of a presentation about humanitarian drone corridor testing under the UNICEF-funded Humanitarian Drone Corridor testing project, in the hard-to-reach rural Chanthunthu Village Health Clinic in Kasungu. The government of Malawi, with assistance from UNICEF, was pilot testing the use of drones for humanitarian purposes in Kasungu District to see how the drones can be used for transporting blood and mucus samples for TB and HIV tests from hard to reach health centres and village clinic to central laboratories in the country to big hospitals where they will be quickly tested and returned to the rural health facilities. The drones were also used for imaging in disaster areas, which are impassable to humans, to determine the extent of damage by floods and how victims can be assisted, as well as boosting telephone and internet network connectivity. AMOS GUMULIRA/AFP via Getty Images.

3. Long-term planning for more sustainable communities

And while drones are being deployed in the immediate aftermath of natural disasters, they continue to serve a purpose long after the disaster has hit. The aerial data they provide can be used for planning long-term recovery too.

For example, post-Hurricane Irma, drones were deployed on Providence Island, which is a remote island in Colombia. While drones with 360-cameras were important for documenting damage early on, a group called UNDP Colombia used drones to create 360-walkthroughs that will be used in the rebuilding process.

4. STEM education

STEM programs around the world are adopting drones as a teaching tool. They can convey lessons including computer science, physics and the principles of flight. Schools are building programs centered entirely around drones, such as the latest U.S. Drone Soccer craze.

Even business students can benefit; have you seen the Girl Scouts delivering cookies via drone to boost sales?

Read more: What’s the best educational drone for a STEM program?

5. Archaeological research

Drones equipped with mapping software, such as that by companies like Skycatch or DroneDeploy, can help map and monitor historical sites in a non-invasive way, thus helping preserve those places. Traditional archaeological is a bit conflicted because — while the intent is typically historically preservation — the act of traipsing around historical sites is inherently destructive. Throw in the excavators, shovels and picks associated with archaeological messages, and it might not actually be protecting the space.

Drones change that. And while helicopters have also changed that, they’re expensive. Meanwhile, drones can fly much closer to the ground, generate more detailed images and create more accurate 3D models.

These days, drones equipped with sensors like Lidar such as the DJI Matrice 300 RTK can see through other physical objects, allowing you to see one set of items below other items (say, what’s under a pile of rubble).

For example, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania are working in Iraq to capture a layout of a Mesopotamian city.

“There’s no way to measure or even see this scale on foot,” said Dr. Goodman, who is working on the project. “I believe the drone will become as instrumental as the travel in archeological research.”

What’s your top way that drones have created a positive social impact? There are so many more than the five listed here, so leave your thoughts below!

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