An article in Smithsonian Magazine notes that a Rice University project using drones' sensors and AI are being used to find and track harmful gases. "Not a week goes by, it seems, without more news of how drones are going to make our lives so much easier or what they can do now to entertain us. Most recently, there were reports of the flying devices delivering food to golfers on a course in North Dakota and being used as backup dancers at Drake’s shows. But far away from the back nine and concert stages, autonomous flying vehicles are doing serious business, from helping to save lives during hurricanes to lending aging farmers a hand. And, if a Rice University research project comes to fruition, a swarm of drones could one day work together to sense toxic gases in the atmosphere and map out a safe perimeter. Boosted by a recent $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, the scientists, in collaboration with the Baylor College of Medicine and Technology For All, a Houston nonprofit, will focus on giving drones the intelligence to sniff out where dangerous pollution has spread following explosions or leaks, particularly after extreme weather events."
Texas Public Radio reports on how drones can be used for geographical research. "For years, commercial drones have improved with better battery life, stronger motors, lower cost and are easier to use. Researchers are increasingly turning to drones to collect data they couldn’t before, including biologists using them to count trees and officials to monitor snow depth. Surpless and his students are exploring what these exposed, striated rock outcroppings — the result of stresses from tectonic plates — can tell them about the fault zone below. They are asking questions like: 'How permeable is it' and 'what does the network of fractured rock look like?' The answers, he said, have implications for oil and gas exploration, understanding of how water moves through these areas and, most importantly, how far and where an earthquake’s waves would travel."
The New York Times reports on how drones are saving money and time on big construction projects, while also increasing safety for workers on site. "On building sites, drones are saving money and time by providing digital images, maps and other files that can be shared in a matter of minutes, said Mike Winn, the chief executive of DroneDeploy, a company founded five years ago in San Francisco that creates software for, among other uses, operating drones with mobile apps. Drones are reducing the travel time for busy executives, Mr. Winn said. 'The head office can see what’s going on, and the safety team, the costing team, the designers — all of them can contribute to the project, share data and comment on it, without actually going to the job.' They could also improve safety, too. In the days before drones, Mr. Winn said, measuring the roof of a house for solar panels would require 'a guy with a tape measure to climb up there,' which often produced inaccurate results and, like anything involving heights, was dangerous."
HuffPost reports on the growing use of drones by police departments to investigate car accidents. "For decades, police investigators at crash scenes used chalk marks, tape measures and roller-wheels to record measurements and skid marks to help them assess what happened. More recently, many have used a laser scanning tool to map the scene. But often, those measurements can take hours, during which lanes may need to be shut down or the road closed entirely, putting emergency responders and crash investigators in harm’s way near traffic whizzing past. Now, more police agencies are turning to drones, unmanned aerial vehicles, to do that work. Remote pilots send up the drones, which take high-resolution photos that are fed into a computer and run through software. That creates 3D models that piece everything together for investigators."
In a new report this week from the U.S. Department of Interior the Office of Aviation Services (OAS) announced a 25 percent reduction in drone incursions on wildfires as of last month. “Working closely together since 2015, the interagency community has created an effective public awareness campaign to educate the public about the dangers to firefighters and communities when civilian drones fly into wildfires,” said ADI Executive Director Jenny Rosenberg. The OAS has established notification protocols to ensure that sightings of drones near wildfires can easily be reported and thoroughly vetted once reported. The department has also established protocols to work with law enforcement to manage operators who continue to fly drones near wildfires.
WTKR reports on the potential of underwater drones. "The Navy's fleet of underwater ocean gliders is increasing, and the data they're collecting is critical for underwater forecasts that help with everything from diver safety to hurricane prediction. The Littoral Battlespace Sensing gliders are underwater unmanned systems that the Naval Oceanographic Office uses to collect environmental data like temperature, salinity, water clarity, and depth. In April of this year, the Naval Oceanographic Office had 50 ocean gliders patrolling at once, all under the command of military and civilian glider pilots at the Stennis Space Center in southern Mississippi."
The San Diego Union-Tribune reports on how police and fire departments are utilizing drone technology. "It provided an aerial view of the blaze, allowing firefighters to determine the most direct route to reach it, Sullivan said. A large TV monitor can broadcast the footage captured by the drones, allowing others to see the vantage point the pilot can see on a smaller monitor attached to the remote. The battalion chief was able to assess the fire and communicate with firefighters to 'put them right where they needed to be to make sure that fire was contained,' the sergeant said. Officials anticipate the drones will be used in other scenarios, such as crime scenes, search-and-rescue missions and SWAT incidents. The drones can be especially helpful when it is less practical or not possible to request the assistance of a sheriff’s helicopter crew, Sullivan said."
PBS News Hour highlights five drone projects that have positive impacts on society. "When we think of drones, we often first think of the military. Last month, Google decided to not renew a Pentagon contract for an artificial intelligence program that aims to categorize drone strike targets, under pressure from employees who found it unethical. But a report released by the Foundation for Responsible Robotics in June, called 'Drones in the Service of Society,' offers a closer look at the potential of drone use in humanitarian aid efforts. 'When we have natural disasters, starving people in conflict, or emergency need for medicines, drones can come to the rescue,' said co-author Noel Sharkey. Drones are being used to deliver blood to hospitals in Rwanda, monitor oil pipelines and fight wildfires in California."
The Times-Tribune highlights a local drone-photography company called Access Aerial. "On average, Deangelis estimates that Access Aerial services between 20 to 30 clients a year, some big and some small. His aerial photography packages start at about $150 and increase in price based on the scope of the project. Certain projects have gone on for years, with some of those larger undertakings creeping into the $15,000-plus price range. 'The barrier to entry has dropped, but I believe the quality of our work speaks for itself,' Deangelis said. 'At the end of the day, business is about client relationships. We’ve worked with a lot of clients over the years now. They come back to us when they need stuff and word of mouth spreads, and business grows.'"
CNBC reports on the growing use of drone technology in construction work. "Drones have taken over the role of cumbersome and expensive planes that previously handled on-site aerial photography. While the devices can be outfitted to handle more advanced jobs like mapping and thermal heat imaging, Moret said the majority of drone work is to take aerial site photographs. 'When trouble arises, something got covered up, or when conditions change and we have to look at where something was, picture is worth a thousand words--and a thousand dollars,' he added."