Drones Fighting the Sustainability Battle

by | May 22, 2014

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droneUnmanned aerial vehicles are most commonly associated with shadowy wars in far-off lands, but they are now starting to be used for the more benign task of sustainability, reports Fuel Fix.

Last year, for example, ConocoPhillips employed a fleet of drones to help meet environmental regulations Alaska’s Chukchi Sea, the website reports.

The flights, which set out to conduct surveys of ice and marine life in accordance with environmental regulations, were the first FAA-approved commercial drone operation.

Usually such surveys are carried out with manned aircraft flying at low altitudes and have all the risk that low altitude flights carry, but drones eliminate the human-risk factor from the operation while also sending back real-time information.

The technology is still fledgling. The first Conoco flight made history, while on a second a drone crashed into the sea. Furthermore, all such flights are still subject to FAA approval so adoption is unlikely to be widespread in the near-term, the website reports.

BP has tested using a small drone to look for leaks and cracks in pipelines, according to Fuel Fix.

In March, Carbomap, l’Avion Jaune SARL and IRD announced a collaboration on the first canopy height model from the Amazon rainforest using data from the first true UAV-ready LiDAR system.

The company said this approach has never been applied before in a tropical rainforest.

The project, CANOPOR, coordinated by IRD focused on the Paracou experimental forest site in French Guiana.

Data for the canopy height model was collected by mounting the LiDAR system — a technology that works in a similar manner to radar, but using light instead of radio waves — on a manned helicopter. The helicopter then replicated the flight parameters of a typical UAV drone, and provided proof-of-concept for this approach.

Transport technology that eliminates human operators can also have other green benefits such as increased fuel economy.  In January, Bosch sponsored a driverless car experience at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Companies demonstrated a range of technologies, aiming to explain how they work and discuss the advantages such as enhanced traffic flow, reduced travel times and improved fuel economy. Bosch president Mike Mansuetti says the company predicts fully automated driving beyond 2020.

Photo Credit: Professional carbon drone with GPS making a ride via Shutterstock

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