Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPAs) can be useful to firefighters struggling with wildfires, but they have many other environmentally friendly uses. Environmental or wildlife monitoring was actually at the origin of some of the world’s most famous RPAs.
Indeed, Insitu’s Seascan unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) platform, on which is based the ScanEagle, was initially conceived to track dolphins and tuna from fishing boats and so being sure that the fishing would be “dolphin safe.” It is interesting that Insitu is still marketing its drones for environmental management applications. The major ongoing programme is the monitoring of the Arctic ice flow.
Defense Industry Daily highlights that on July 26th, the FAA issued its first UAV restricted category type for flights over Alaska’s waters for such mission. It seems that the end user of the survey is an energy company looking for the feasibility of exploitation projects and the impact it could have on wildlife. It is also used for mammal monitoring to “help drive comparative analysis of combined real-time and historic data sets.”
Various ongoing wildlife protection and monitoring programs currently use drones. During a 2013 Ted Global talk, environmental systems researcher Lian Pin Koh spoke about “conservation drones.” The scientist currently uses a $2,000 RPA over the Indonesian forest to track Orangutan nests and monitor species population. Traditionally, this mission was conducted only from the ground. It took lot of time and according to him $250,000 to perform. Now, the cheap aircraft can travel up to 50km per flight and Lian Pin Koh is working “to develop algorithms that could automatically detect orangutan nests from among thousands of photos.” Besides the relative low cost of the platform, its ease of use is its second advantage. The drone is programmed on an open source Google Maps interface.