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What drones can do for you

Brian S Hall | July 29, 2014
From a PR standpoint this is not a good time to be a drone. Most mentions of drones in the media are not particularly flattering. You hear about military drones, predator drones, pepper-spray-bullet drones--yes, really--and drones used by creepy guys. Any mention of the word drone is usually followed by the potential threats drones pose to our safety and our privacy.

If you're looking for examples of travel-by-drone done right, this video of a historic manor house north of Oxford in the UK provides some breath-taking views, even if they are meant to sell real estate. But we also like this drone's eye view of Brigit's Garden near Galway, Ireland.

Drones can help get us stuff faster

It's easy to point at Jeff Bezos's advocacy of delivery drones and joke that the Amazon CEO may be a comic book supervillain or to have a good laugh at the prospect of the TacoCopter and its promise of immediate, airborne taco goodness. But make no mistake: delivery by drone is probably inevitable, despite current restrictions.

Amazon has petitioned the FAA to let the company test its "Prime Air" drone delivery service outside the government's six approved test sites, none of which are located near Amazon's Seattle headquarters. According to the online giant, its delivery drones can fly 50 mph and carry packages weighing up to 5 pounds. About 85 percent of all products sold through Amazon weight less than that. Should the FAA consent, Amazon promises its delivery drones will be ready for action by 2015.

While we wait to see if Amazon wins the FAA's OK, there are more fanciful examples of drone delivery to consider. If 30 minutes is much too long to wait for a pizza, for example, Domino's wants to whet your appetite with the DomiCopter. It's a pure PR stunt, though a good one.

And as great as speedy delivery would be, how about a drone that not only brings you a drink, but makes it as well? The Yura is an experimental bartender drone concept that mixes your favorite drink and then flies it to you.

Drones can save the planet

It's safe to say that there are some parts of the world that are better off if people never set foot there — even well-intentioned people. Enter drones, which can help with conservation efforts with minimal disruption for the local flora and fauna.

In Hawaii, scientists are using drones to assess the local ecosystem without harming any fragile areas. A team from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the US Fish & Wildlife Service surveyed monk seals, sea turtles, and vegetation and examined marine debris in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. And the NOAA's Southwest Fisheries Science Center also uses drones to monitor sperm whale activity.

Drones also help fight forest fires. Last year, the California National Guard dispatched a drone to aid firefighters battling a massive blaze near Yosemite, helping spot hotspots from above.


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