Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, are aircraft that can be controlled remotely by a pilot, or by preprogrammed plans or automation systems that enable them to fly autonomously. A large number of industries and organizations are adopting this technology, including military, government, commercial, and recreational users.
As drone technology advances, these aircraft are becoming more common and affordable, giving rise to debates that weigh their benefits against new ethical and legal concerns. As such, the decisions derived from discussing the pros and cons of drones and UAVs are poised to have a substantial impact on the private and public sectors.
Pros of Drones
To properly weigh the pros and cons of drones and their use, it’s important to examine both sides of the debate on their own merits. For instance, plenty of reasons exist to support the use of drones.
Quality Aerial Imaging
Drones are excellent for taking high-quality aerial photographs and video, and collecting vast amounts of imaging data. These high-resolution images can be used to create 3D maps and interactive 3D models, which have many beneficial uses. For example, 3D mapping of disaster areas can enable rescue teams to be better prepared before entering hazardous situations.
Since unmanned aerial vehicles use GPS (the Global Positioning System), they can be programmed and maneuvered accurately to precise locations. This is especially helpful in a variety of situations. In precision agriculture, for example, UAVs are used for a variety of farming needs, such as spraying fertilizer and insecticide, identifying weed infestations, and monitoring crop health. The precision of UAVs saves farmers both time and cost.
With advances in control technology, most drones can be deployed and operated with relatively minimal experience. Combined with the relatively low cost of most models, drones are becoming accessible to a wide range of operators. UAVs also have a greater range of movement than manned aircraft. They are able to fly lower and in more directions, allowing them to easily navigate traditionally hard-to-access areas.
Another plus to drone use centers on security. With the appropriate license, operators can use unmanned aerial vehicles to provide security and surveillance to private companies, sporting events, public gatherings, and other venues. Drones can also gather valuable data during and after natural disasters to aid in security and recovery efforts.
Cons of Drones
While there are numerous pros to using drones, there are also several perceived challenges to their deployment. These concerns are important to consider, particularly given the wide range of circumstances in which drones can be used.
Since the widespread use of unmanned aerial vehicles is relatively new, legislation is still catching up. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has established certain rules for small, unmanned aircraft that apply to commercial and recreational use, but there are still ambiguities. Questions include how best to determine airspace property rights and protect landowners from aerial trespassing. Further adding to the confusion are conflicts between federal regulations and some state and local laws.
Safety is a primary concern when dealing with unmanned aerial vehicles. To avoid mid-air collisions, UAVs must be programmed with “sense and avoid” capabilities that match those of manned aircraft. This means that drones must be able to detect a potential collision and maneuver to safety. In the event of system failures, falling drones are another serious danger, especially when they are used near large crowds or in highly populated areas.
One of the most common concerns from the public about UAVs is privacy. Drones can collect data and images without drawing attention, leading many Americans to fear their Fourth Amendment right to privacy may be in jeopardy. This can occur if government entities were to use drones to monitor the public. The way in which the Fourth Amendment is interpreted, and the efforts of privacy rights organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), continue to influence how this issue of privacy is regulated.
Applications of Drones
Drones are designed to be nimble and relatively unobtrusive. A diverse number of industries use them to execute complex tasks. In many instances, these tasks may otherwise be extremely difficult or costly to achieve without the assistance of drone technology. The results of these myriad applications are equally diverse, ranging from boosted creativity to greater commercial and communal outreach.
An amateur filmmaker can record high-quality aerial shots using only a drone equipped with a high-definition camera. Less than two decades ago, recording from this perspective was only consistently an option for large movie studios that could afford to use cranes, helicopters, and airplanes. As a single day of a helicopter shoot may cost tens of thousands of dollars, the option to buy a basic filming drone for a few thousand dollars can be far more appealing for modern filmmakers — although renting higher-end professional drones may exceed $5,000 for a single day’s use.
Apart from their costs being more manageable, drones are also useful due to their extreme versatility. Drones are usually relatively small in size, so they are great when shooting a movie scene that requires entering a tight space or moving nimbly. Yet, they are not a complete replacement for traditional aircraft in the film industry. While the size of drones typically allows users to record shots that wouldn’t be possible using a manned aircraft, some filmmakers believe that helicopters are still preferable for shooting high-speed action scenes such as car chases.
Poaching is devastating endangered wildlife populations across the globe. Conservationist groups have been working for decades to protect these animals by migrating them into protected lands like animal sanctuaries and national parks. Yet many poachers still trespass into these parks to kill the animals. Therefore, conservationists must strategize new ways to secure these locations and prevent people with malicious intent from entering.
Recently, the conservationist community has discovered how to use drones to help protect wildlife. Using a drone equipped with night vision optics or thermal sensors, conservationists can patrol the parks to deter poachers. One example can be found at Liwonde National Park in Liwonde, Malawi. The park uses anti-poaching drones to find illegal snares, monitor activity within the park, and help law enforcement officials find and arrest poachers.
War zones are extremely dangerous, and war journalists would normally need to risk their lives to record events as they unfold. Using drones, journalists can record the destruction of war without compromising their own safety. This makes it possible to accurately represent the reality of war using firsthand visual accounts filmed in real war-afflicted areas.
The future of drone technology will also present consumers with the highly convenient option to receive their deliveries by drone. Amazon is at the forefront of making this a reality. Its upcoming Amazon Prime Air service is expected to allow customers to request drone delivery for packages weighing up to five pounds. How will the process work?
1. A customer purchases a product.
2. The delivery drone is dispatched to an address or to the customer’s smartphone GPS.
3. Upon the arrival of the drone, the customer uses their phone to flash a QR code, barcode, or LED signal to the drone, validating them as the correct customer.
4. The product then is lowered from a safe height using a pulley system and released for the customer.
This application of drone technology has the potential to make delivery far more efficient in the near future, though no widespread drone delivery services are operating at full capacity yet due to government regulations and public safety concerns. The firms that are interested in offering drone delivery services will need to emphasize designing and implementing safe and ethical systems that will not endanger their customer or the public.
To create accurate weather forecasts, meteorologists must measure weather data from a diverse set of sensors that are usually affixed to satellites or surface equipment. These tools collect data that can be used to predict common weather changes like precipitation, or even violent storms like tornadoes. Scientists are now working to incorporate unmanned aircraft into the process by using drones to collect research data.
Flying through a storm can be dangerous, but drones can enter storms to collect temperature, pressure, humidity, and wind velocity measurements without risking lives. This data can be used to provide advanced storm warnings, giving people more time to take precautions or evacuate. As drones continue to become more robust, industry leaders expect them to become a more regular aspect of weather measurement and forecasting.
Although unmanned aerial vehicles have existed for several decades, over the past 20 years the technology has seen significant advancements. Drones were once a tool used almost exclusively for military uses, but modern engineering has made them accessible and affordable to private citizens.
By earning a Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, aspiring professionals can enhance their understanding of the fundamental tenets of electronics engineering. In doing so, they can improve their ability to contribute positively to the design process of complex electronic devices, like drones.
The Future of Drones
The commercial interest in drone technology began to boom around 2010, and shows no signs of slowing. In fact, all signs point to a bright and exciting future for drones and drone technology. Future generations of drones are projected to feature enhanced autonomy and improved safety and regulatory standards. These and other enhancements have the potential to further impact a wide array of industry sectors, such as commercial transport, logistics, and the military.
Improved camera technology goes hand in hand with improved drone technology. Because the quality of images produced by drone cameras continues to improve, emergency response teams can increasingly rely on them to locate and identify victims more efficiently. This efficiency could potentially lead to improved victim survival rates. Additionally, drones can be increasingly used to help survey the aftermath of a natural disaster, which could make it easier for response teams to deploy disaster relief and humanitarian aid to the affected region’s most vulnerable areas.
Currently, drone-based delivery correlates to commercial goods like an Amazon package. But this delivery aspect could conceivably have important applications in the health care industry, particularly in rural areas where access to health care services may be limited. In this case, drones may be used to deliver time-sensitive materials such as prescription refills. These actions can lead to more timely medical care that could ultimately improve an individual’s own health journey.
UAVs can cover large areas very quickly, and they can be equipped with tools that can generate 3D images. These dual functions can be beneficial to construction workers, who can use this efficiently gathered data to produce models at the project’s start and assess progress during the construction process. These elements can lead to the creation of safer and more robust buildings, and may make it easier for a construction team to hit the vital metrics of being on time and on budget.