10 New Ways to Use Drones

From fighting wildfires to coaching people on their tennis game, the aerial devices are becoming a tool of choice

This drone is designed to start controlled burns of grassland. (University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
smithsonian.com

Welcome to the Age of the Drones.

It won’t officially begin until later this month when the long-awaited Federal Aviation Administration’s regulations on commercial drones go into effect. But now that rules were laid out earlier this summer, expect a lot of businesses to start taking a serious look at how they can incorporate small, unmanned aircraft into their operations.  

Ironically, the FAA didn’t do any favors for the companies that have probably done the most to shape the public’s imagination about how drones will fit into our daily lives. That would be Amazon, Google and Walmart, to name a few, who have conjured up the image of drones with packages landing in the front yard. For now, at least, that’s not happening because the new regulations require not only that a human “pilot” must be responsible for each drone, but also that that person must always have the drone in sight.

So much for delivery drones. But already we’re beginning to see how much potential the little flying machines have as a 21st century tool. Here are 10 new ways drones are being used by scientists, government agencies or foreign businesses.

Medicine from the sky

By next year, a California startup hopes to be using its fleet of drones to deliver blood, medicine and vaccine to some of the more remote places in America. The company, called Zipline, is already using its small robot planes to drop medical supplies to areas of Rwanda where there are no roads. The Zipline planes, known as Zips, weigh only 22 pounds and can carry packages up to three pounds, which they deliver by parachute. They can fly up to 75 miles on a single charge, which means the drones will be out of sight of the pilot. But Zipline is expected to get an exemption from the FAA so it can begin providing medicine to doctors in island communities off the coasts of Maryland and Washington state and in a remote area of Nevada.

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