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How Drones Help Break Boundaries in Scientific Research

Drones are becoming a second, powerful set of ears and eyes for scientists, from disciplines like atmospheric research to ecology and conservation. They can survey dig sites for archaeologists, scan acres of farmland for illegal poaching and crop damage, and even zip inside huge storms to give research a close-up view. 

Why do Scientists Love Drones? 

Who would have ever imagined there would be a connection between drones and pregnant dolphins? Nobody. But dream no more, scientists in Scotland recently used drones to detect pregnant dolphins, a protected species living in a conservation area. Scientific research has embraced the use of UAVs for a lot of reasons, but one of the major motivations? Versatility. Drones can be used in a ton of scenarios, with sensors and equipment being adapted for different purposes. Advanced technology can also help in environments that are hard to reach for humans, whether it be high altitude or small crevices. 

When piloted correctly, drones are also a low-invasive way of investigating wildlife, ruins, and other delicate areas. We know the phrase “leave nothing but footprints,” but drones don’t even leave those behind. Drones also don’t have the environmental impact of vehicles like cars, trucks, and planes, which can often add pollution to the atmosphere. 

Overall, drones are efficient and easy-to-use machines that are great for data collection, especially if photography and videography play a part. 

Which Scientific Fields use Drones? 

We recently highlighted numerous ways drones are currently used commercially, but no pun intended, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to what academic disciplines drones can play a role in. According to Microdrones.com, a drone production company which partners with scientific research, here’s a sample of the research areas in which drones are actively used: 

  • Archaeological research     
  • Ethnographic research
  • Measuring nuclear contamination
  • Studying biodiversity
  • Capturing the spread of algae
  • Examining coastal regions
  • Glacier surveillance
  • Ocean & sea research support
  • Identification of plant species
  • Forestry and Natural Resources Management
  • Meteorological research
  • Volcanic eruptions – surveillance, tracking & monitoring ash clouds
  • Mapping of excavation sites
  • Environmental monitoring
  • Iceberg monitoring
  • Flying over historical buildings and sites
  • Climate observation
  • Surveillance of sea mammals
  • Mapping the movement of sandbars 
  • Radiation measurement
  • Arctic research
  • Agriculture – mapping plant growth and issues, moisture levels, yields
  • Mapping coastal regions
  • Geophysical surveying
  • Counting animal populations
  • Radiation monitoring

What Technology Enables Research with Drones? 

According to researchers at Columbia University, drones can be equipped with various different tools, depending on their mission. Some common payloads, or equipment sets, are: 

  • Digital cameras can identify plants and animals, and also help create 3-D maps & models
  • Thermal cameras detect heat from living creatures like animals or plants, as well as from water.
  • Hyperspectral imaging identifies features of plants and water through measuring reflected light and can interpret a wider range of wavelengths than the human eye can see. 
  • LiDAR, which measures how long it takes for an emitted pulse of light to reach a target and return to the sensor, can be used to calculate the distance to an object and its height, which is used for 3-D maps.

Of course, the use of the drone depends on the industry or field, but UAVs can be found everywhere. According to the same Columbia University article, in the conservation sector, drones are monitoring rivers to predict flooding, identify illegal logging, and even detecting forest tree disease. They can also track the populations of endangered animals! Meanwhile, in energy, drones can identify methane leaks in oil/gas production as well monitor pipelines and wind/solar installation. 

Overall, drones can be so much more than a fun hobby – they’re becoming essential in science to save the natural Earth, as well as benefit our own lives through technological innovation and discovery. 

Get Certified to Fly Commercially

The Dronegenuity Part 107 Test Prep Course does a deep dive into all of the topics that are covered on the FAA’s Part 107 Exam. This exam is required for drone users who intend on using their drone commercially. In other words, if you intend on making money with your drone, this course sets you up to take the FAA’s exam and get your certification. We’ll cover topics such as FAA regulations, weather, radio communications, sectional charts (of course), the national airspace system, and more. Enroll now to take your first step towards FAA certification.

Learn More 

We’d love to hear from you if you want to learn more about the benefits of aerial drone photography for the real estate industry. If you’re interested in obtaining your Part 107 Commercial Drone License or other drone training courses, please contact us at Dronegenuity today! We offer professional aerial photography services, performed by FAA licensed drone operators for customers of all sizes. All of the work that we do is completely customized and we make the process simple and convenient.

About the Author

Katherine Lombardi

Katherine hails from Middletown, NJ, and is a freshman at Smith College in Northampton, MA. At Smith, she studies Economics and Government. It’s no surprise that she’s interested in international movies - she’s seen over 70 of them! At Dronegenuity, she creates digital marketing content: she writes copy for various online articles; and dedicates herself to assorted projects. She joined Dronegenuity in January of 2021, and can’t wait to get some hands-on experience at a start-up with a great mission!