While the tenacious, back-and-forth legal struggles between drone advocates and government regulators continue to dominate UAV-news headlines, a look back at 2014 shows that, rather than a battlescape littered with tragedy and angst, this past year had more than its share of drone success stories:
Over the summer, drone developer Matternet partnered with the World Health Organization to test drones that deliver medicine and medical equipment to villagers in Bhutan. Since Bhutan only has approximately one physician for every 3,333 people, such a service could help save thousands of lives. “It was high impact/high reward,” Matternet co-founder Paola Santana told Dronelife. “There are no other alternatives; there are no roads.”
The results of the Bhutan flights were extremely encouraging. “We have 100 percent perfection with our [UAS and software] technology,” Santana said, “We are still working out the nitty gritty, but initial reports are that every flight was completed to perfection.”
Matternet followed the Bhutan tests with a similar project in New Guinea.
So, while the FAA spent 2014 floundering over drone regulations, Matternet used the last year to show the world how UAV technology can change the way we think about global health.
Drones Find Missing People
In July, 82-year-old Guillermo DeVenecia went missing from his home in Fitchburg, Va. After a three-day search by police, officials feared for DeVenecia’s safety and health because he suffered from dementia and hearing loss. Upon hearing a news alert about the situation, drone pilot David Lesh deployed his drone above one of DeVenecia’s last known locations and, within 20 minutes, found him – suffering from dehydration but otherwise in good shape
The Examiner reported:
Using FPV, or first-person-view controls, Lesh was able to fly about 200 feet above the area and view it through the drone’s camera. He canvassed the field, which might have taken volunteers many hours, in just a handful of minutes.
In a similar case in August, rescue workers in Siberia used a drone to locate a four-year-old girl missing for two weeks. As reported in DRONELIFE: “After surveying the [30-kilometer] area, an unmanned aerial vehicle spotted Katrina sitting in tall grass and was able to direct rescuers to her location. Katrina was immediately taken to the hospital where she remains in stable condition.”
Drones Uncover the Past
A Purdue University archaeologist along with many of his colleagues discovered that “drones are a new tool in archaeologists’ toolkits.” Ian Lindsay has been using UAVs to gather and to better understand data from Bronze Age field sites in Armenia. “It’s a good alternative to kites, balloons or sitting in the bucket of a crane with a camera trying to visually document these ancient sites,” Lindsay said. “Drones offer a detailed aerial perspective that we’ve never had before, and by leveraging this technology, archaeologists can be more efficient in the field as drones give us an immediate sense of spatial scale useful for planning excavation.”
In addition, drones are being used in dig sites across the globe in New Mexico, Peru and Ecuador.
Drones Save the Whales
Modern whales are stressed out. How do we know that? Well, the giant mammals spew excess gallons of mucus full of stress hormones out of their blow holes when they have problems. The traditional method of obtaining and studying these…uh… whale boogers, involved researchers using motorboats to get near the animals – the noise from which causes the whales even more stress. Indeed, the “doctor” can make the “patient” even worse by trying to get a diagnosis.
Looks like the whales are in real trouble; but wait – enter the drone named Snot Bot. Designed by students at Olin College of Engineering in Needham, Mass., Snot Bot is a copter drone that can quietly and unobtrusively fly into a whale’s spray of discharged water and mucus, and easily obtain the sample. Although the drone is only in the conceptual phase, the college team, with help from the Ocean Alliance, test the quadcopter this fall in hopes of getting a permit from the FAA.
Drones Get Some FAA Support
Although there are still a number of hurdles for drone operators to overcome with regard to questionable FAA policies, the federal agency did show some “UAV love” this year. As per the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the FAA opened test sites in Alaska, Nevada, New York, North Dakota, Texas, and Virginia to be the federally sanctioned locations for companies to test their UAVs and conduct research to further the FAA’s effort in publishing regulations. The agency also granted about well over 100 Certificates of Authorization and three Section 333 exemptions to BP, Conoco and the MPAA to use drones in the U.S.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
Beginning his career as a journalist in 1996, Jason has since written and edited thousands of engaging news articles, blog posts, press releases and online content.
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