When I started working at a newspaper, staff photographers often climbed to precarious positions on rooftops or bridges, or sometimes chartered helicopters to shoot overhead images of major events or disasters. For example, only an aerial view can capture the extent of storm damage or the size of a massive crowd at a concert or other event. Now, with both feet safely on the ground, photographers can snap the same pictures by using a drone.
But photography is just one use for unpiloted aircraft. Originally developed for the military and aerospace industries, drones have found their way into the mainstream. Sometimes referred to as “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAVs), drones can carry out an impressive range of tasks.
Here are a few ways in which they’re used:
- Search and rescue: After a hurricane or avalanche, a drone can search for survivors without putting rescue workers’ lives at risk.
- Law enforcement teams and the military use UAVs as “eyes in the sky” during terrorist situations.
- Military: Walker Clayton, a drone operator in my book “Sky Witness Rescue,” is a former Air Force Drone operator. Some high-flying drones are virtually undetectable and can carry missiles as well as intelligence-gathering tools.
- Delivery: Some companies like FedEx and Amazon use drones to deliver packages to customers’ doorsteps. But a more important function is delivering medicines to patients in remote areas ranging from Alaska to the Andes Mountains.
- Wildlife conservation: Drones can track poachers of endangered species in Asia and Africa They’re also used to track groups of animals such as bison on the Great Plains, to give scientists information about the herds’ health and numbers.
- Historic conservation: UAVs are becoming instrumental in historic conservation. Drones can map out 3D renderings of historical sites in Europe and the Middle East. The vantage point helps preservationists find clues about culture and architecture while using 3D images to recreate ancient sites.
- Reforestation: There’s probably a wildfire raging somewhere as I write this. Also at this moment, there’s probably a drone scouring the floor of a forest decimated by fire, dropping small vessels filled with tree seeds, nutrients, and fertilizers. Seed-planting drones are replanting hundreds of thousands of acres much more efficiently than humans.
- Agriculture: In my book “Sky Witness to Murder,” Jake Goodman is an agricultural drone operator whose drone accidentally captures evidence in a crime. Jake performs field surveys for farmers. But UAVs can also distribute seed, estimate crop yield, and track livestock.
- Business: Real estate companies use Drones to give overhead views of properties. They’re also used in industrial settings. For example, the fictional drone operator Jake Goodman picks up some extra money by using his drone to check the roofs in a warehouse complex.