Drones in Nature: How UAVs and the Ecosystem Can Help Each Other

Drones are both a whole lot of fun and a worthwhile investment for a growing number of businesses. As both local business people and international corporations look to drones as delivery vehicles or cinematographic tools (and a lot more), scientists and environmentalists are investigating their potential to improve the natural world. Drone designers and manufacturers are, in turn, looking to the natural world for improvements to drones. Whether it means a more efficient drone motor or more versatile drone rotors, nature might be where the next advancements are found. Here are a few examples.

Drones Helping Bees

Plant life on Earth, wild and cultivated, is incredibly important. Virtually all wild plants and a considerable percentage of the world’s cultivated crops require cross-pollination from insects, bats, and birds to survive. Among the most important and active of the pollinators are bees.

Unfortunately, and alarmingly, bees have been suffering considerably from Colony Collapse Disorder. Losing bees as a pollinator would be catastrophic to the Earth’s ecosystem, but there’s the possibility, at least, that they could get a boost from drones. Scientists from the United States, Asia, and Europe are all working on insect-sized pollination drones, outfitted with miniscule drone propellers and motors, that could revolutionize how agriculture and pollination take place.

Bees and Other Insects Helping Drones

It’s a good thing that drones could be of such help to the natural world, because they owe nature, and insects especially, a great deal. The future of drone delivery (of both people and goods) is being considered by much of the business community as a massive potential moneymaker. However, it’s not a future without hurdles to overcome.

For instance, drones may be an excellent tool for sunny-day deliveries. A huge percentage of modern UAVs, however, can suffer major efficiency issues and even be destroyed when caught in overly windy or stormy weather. In response, a team of researchers at Purdue University’s School of Engineering Technology have come up with a drone design based on the dynamic flight capabilities of insects. Instead of fixed wings, their rotor arms can fold, move, and change, making adjustments based on weather conditions. It could prove revolutionary for the future of drone flight.

Counting Koalas

Scientists at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) are leveraging drone technology to detect and monitor the population of one of Australia’s most iconic species: koalas. Study and management of wild populations, particularly threatened populations, is a necessity for ecology and for keeping those populations safe.

Unfortunately, the act of studying a population can prove invasive, stressful, and even dangerous for the species scientists are attempting to study and protect. The QUT research team has responded by combining drone technology with infrared imaging. That not only allows them to detect the heat signatures of koalas in places where more traditional population tallying techniques can’t penetrate, but it will also enable them to do so from far enough away to avoid causing stress and upset among the animals.

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