Published December 8, 2016

There are countless ways that drones can be used for philanthropic purposes. They can help with efforts to protect historic areas and endangered species. In times of crisis, they can even be used to rescue people in danger.

As noted by unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) manufacturer DJI, drones are being used internationally for the public good. Here are some ways that people are using drones to change the world for the better:

Map and protect historical sites

Tourists in Peru were flummoxed when they saw researchers piloting drones above historic locations. Seeing a drone hovering above such a building may be an odd sight, but it is up there for a good reason: it is gathering data that will help protect the property.

Drones can be used to protect important historical sites.

Many buildings of historical value are endangered by land development. Only a few years ago, a four-thousand year old pyramid was knocked down to make way for urban development. While tourists might be put off by the presence of hobby drones at such sites, they have been used by builders to successfully protect historically significant places. Things can get legally murky when boundaries for a site are unclear.

Drones can help address this problem. In Peru, the Ministry of Culture has started to use DJI Phantom drones to map historical areas to prevent them from being demolished by real estate agencies. They have mapped more than six hundred such locations. An example of such a site is Machu Picchu. In areas like this, it can be difficult to protect an area from zealous developers. Accurate mapping makes it more difficult for these groups to justify demolishing part of a location due to “unclear guidelines”.

While protecting historically significant sites has been difficult in the past, UAVs can make the task much easier. With precise mapping data, demolishers have no legal ground to demolish such areas.

Animal protection

There are a number of inventive ways that researchers and advocates are using drones for to protect endangered species. They can assist with efforts in conflict avoidance and research, all for the benefit of vulnerable populations.

Drones can be used to protect the wildlife in precarious situations.

Consider elephants, for example: When elephants get in close proximity to heavily populated areas, disaster can happen. A group of wild elephants can completely destroy subsistence farms overnight, leaving farmers and families in dire situations. For a couple years, rangers in Tanzania have been using quadcopters to protect elephants in the area. When a herd is sighted near a town or village, local rangers can use drones to shepherd the elephants away. Over 120 “herding” flights have been recorded so far, and many conflicts have been avoided.  

Humpback Whales

UAVs can also assist with research on endangered species.

Another example of UAVs being used for the betterment of animals is the research performed by Griffith University in 2014. A team of researchers sought to determine if a recent increase in whale population placed pressure on the species. To gather data, the team used hobby drones to collect DNA samples (mucus) from whales. This sample contained valuable information that allowed scientists to determine the strength of the humpbacks’ immune systems. This information can be used to make future decisions that will better impact the species.

These inventive uses of UAVs to protect animals are inspiring. Not only do drones give people the capacity to prevent conflict with endangered species, but they also facilitate research that may give us the necessary info to better care for them.

Search and rescue

Drones can be used by professionals in order to monitor ongoing disasters. Other data can also be gathered. One example is the ability to monitor radiation after a nuclear accident. Footage of forest fires, volcanic eruptions, landslides, and tsunamis can be gathered without fear of further danger. In the event that stranded people are discovered, a search-and-rescue operation can commence. While hobbyists should avoid causing an obstruction to professionals, this intel can be the difference between life and death in some cases.

For example: In one dramatic scenario, firefighters in Maine were able to use a drone to rescue two stranded rafters. Since one of the stranded men did not have a lifejacket, firefighters had to get a haul line to the rafter. Using a UAV, a fire chief was able to deliver the haul line to the ensnared men. This man was then able to pull in a life jacket, so that the rescue operation could commence. Throughout the rescue attempt, the drone was kept at a higher altitude, for aerial observation. With the assistance of a drone, the entire operation ran smoothly.

There are an endless number of applications for drones in dire situations. Not only can they be used to find those who need help, but they can assist during the rescue as well. Advocates and professionals around the world are finding new uses for UAVs every day. Through these creative uses, they are having a positive and measurable impact on our lives.

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