They are known for their ability to kill at a distance and without causing casualties among the armies seeking a ‘clean war’. But drones are also used to access disaster areas difficult to access by land, infiltrate hurricanes or volcanic eruptions or to hunt poachers. These are some of the latest models:
Being small and silent, drones are great for ‘hunting’ enemies of biodiversity. In Doñana National Park, a model of unmanned aircraft has begun being used that is equipped with thermal cameras, and it has already caught five poachers who hunted at night in the park. This type of drone will also be used in South Africa to catch red-handed the hunters of white rhinos, one of the most endangered species in the world.
2. Fire Control
The Choctaw Ikhana –which in the Choctaw Indian language means “intelligence”– is a NASA model used for fire monitoring in the USA. This model can fly for over 24 hours straight, and has also been used in weather forecasting. It has an infrared camera that can capture images at night.
3. In flocks
The drones no longer fly alone. At MIT they are developing a new generation of drones in the shape of a delta wing that communicate via wifi and are able to share information. They are designed to rescue victims in disaster areas with difficult access.
4. Into the eye of the storm
This Global Hawk flying over the remnants of Hurricane Frank in 2010 can do what no manned aircraft can do – fly over storms at altitudes above 18 kilometres high for 28 hours and approach the eye of the hurricane.
5. Repairing wind turbines
Drones can reach places where non-winged robots and manned aircraft cannot, and an example is the blades of a wind turbine. This sort of flying spider, called Aracnóptero (Spider helicopter), is a one meter long collapsible helicopter which weighs just over three kilos. Its main application is the inspection of wind turbine blades that can be found up to 100 metres above the ground.
6. Under the volcano
These three small, unmanned aircraft penetrated the clouds of sulfuric acid and ash spewing from Turrialba, a volcano in Costa Rica that erupted last March.
7. Photographing the impossible
Drones can not only save human and animal lives, but may also pursue high risk photography, as does the eight-propellered Helicam which can take pictures at close range in difficult to access places.
8. Spy in the shape of a hummingbird
The Nano Air is the latest innovation coming out of the Pentagon agency, DARPA. With the shape and size of a hummingbird, it is one of the smallest and most discrete devices on the market.