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The Aerial Expansion
[ Issue 149 Page 8 ] Thursday, November 24, 2016, 20:30:26 Kun-Woo Song Junior Staff Reporter kwsong0725@kaist.ac.kr

     The drone industry is on the rise, expanding faster than ever. According to the market research company NPD group, the sales of quadcopters, drones with four motors, alone tripled in the last year to 200 million USD. Businesses are designing and modifying their own drones to fit whatever purpose they desire. From delivery drones to camera drones, the once distant war technology is starting to encroach upon various corners of everyday life; its influence continues to expand.

     Though there is no one definite variable, price is a large contributor to the drones’ increasing popularity. While military drones stay at the multi-million-dollar project range, today, the cheapest drone costs as little as 70 USD. These drones, compared to their military counterparts, tend to have limited performance, such as control distance and flight time. However, the affordability of the drones, some equivalent to merely a few weeks’ worth of a child’s allowance, has recently started to appeal to the general public; drones now promise realistic and attainable life-changing civilian applications.

     The most common type of drones are camera drones, which are drones equipped with cameras that can provide observations from a bird’s-eye view. Classically, camera drones have proven invaluable in performing both military and civilian tasks; unmanned drones can engage in reconnaissance flights over enemy territory or surveillance of facilities under harsh conditions, such as high temperature and radioactivity that are deemed fatal to the average human being. With development in radio and camera technology, the best commercial drones can take photos and videos at high quality from afar – even from hundreds of meters away. The fact that these drones provide their users a completely new perspective from the sky attracts the interests of photo fanatics and simple hobbyists alike. In fact, drones gathered so much attention that there are international drone film festivals all around the world.

     Researchers are looking more into the versatile utility of the drones as well. Most researchers use drones in two ways: monitoring and data collection. In many cases, researchers cannot approach a site of interest easily because of safety hazards or possible damage to the site. In these cases, drones with extra sensors such as infrared cameras, can monitor and track areas in a much wider scale with better efficiency compared to a human researcher doing field work. Especially for disaster response, in which time is of the essence, the use of drones is imperative. Dr. Carrick Detweilar of the University of Nebraska- Lincoln is researching a way to quickly stop wildfires through the use of drones. Those drones can precisely fly to locations and deploy capsules that can start small controlled burns to prevent further spread. Other scientists such as Gijs DeBoer, an Artic researcher for the Cooperative Institute for Research in the Environmental Sciences, deploy drones with radiometers to collect data to research the change of albedo in the Artic.

A MQ-1B Predator Drone

     In addition, the use of drones has garnered large interest in the delivery industry. In 2015, Amazon released a video of their new future service: Amazon Prime Air. They plan to deliver their products through drone in a short period of time. DHL, another delivery company, is also developing autonomous drone technology for quick and efficient delivery.

     Another prominent field that is becoming increasingly reliant on drones is agriculture. According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers analysis, the current market for agricultural solutions based on drones are at 32.4 billion USD. Farmers can use drones throughout the farming cycle to boost efficiency and maintain the quality of their crops. Before planting, farmers can use drones to create an accurate 3D mapping of the area to assess the soil quality. During planting, drones can be used to precisely and efficiently plant seeds to maximize crop growth. While the plant grows, drones can be further used for spraying and crop monitoring, which with the right sensors can detect changes in the plant to assess its health. And the drones are proving to be effective. The OCEALIA farmer group in France reported a 10% increase in crop yield through the use of drones. With the ever-increasing population and need for more food, experts are expecting greater involvement of drones in agriculture.

     Photography, research, delivery, agriculture — and the list of areas where drones are being used continues. Whether recreational, academic, or commercial, the use of drones is becoming more notable, their tasks more complex. In the near future, it won’t be an overstatement to say that the age of drones has arrived.

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