Whether it’s down on the farm or deep in the wild, drones are transforming conservation efforts for wildlife, water and farms.
In California, farmers are using drones to battle drought conditions through water conservation. NPR station KQED reports that, during a time when water is becoming a precious commodity on the West Coast, at least one farm uses drones to video-monitor irrigation water lines which are prone to breakage from hunters and coyotes.
The report predicts “farms will eventually account for 80 percent of the commercial drone market.”
Farmer Zach Sheely ordered a $15,000 ag drone from Oregon company Honeycomb, a price tag that will prove to be less than the cost of damage suffered from water leaks.
Sheely tells NPR that using the drone will save hours in tedious labor since he will not have to send out a worker to patrol the water lines:
“If I can eliminate that job or use that person more wisely than just drive up and back mindlessly looking for leaks, it’s going to benefit my business, and he’s probably going to like his job a little bit better, too.”
And drones can do more than catch water leaks. Researchers at Michigan State University deploy drones high over farm fields to ensure crops grow healthy.
According to a report at TakePart.com, the drones use three instruments:
The first, a thermal imager, allows it to take the temperature of plants, which can be used to see if the plants need water. The second is a hyperspectral radiometer, enabling the device to see when plants require nitrogen. Finally, a laser scanner deduces plant heights, which tells how well plants are generally doing and if they are on course.
Beyond the verdant farms and fields, drone technology his helping ensure the viability of animal populations both on land and under the sea. In India, conservationists with the Panna Tiger Reserve test UAVs to monitor their felines.
Writing in a National Geographic op-ed, conservation technologist Shah Selbe paints a bright future for drone use in oceanic conservation projects.
“I believe that there is one area where drones will really soar: for use in ocean conservation,” Selbe writes. “Plane-based aerial monitoring of our oceans is already a practice that is prevalent globally. Manned flights at sea can be dangerous, where low cost UAVs would easily fill that use without the risk to human life. Through controlling the drone with a ground station far away, the same concerns with pilot fatigue and flight time disappear.”