Drones are becoming part and parcel of what it means to live in the 21st Century. They’re in warfare; they’re in our homes; and they’re in our skies taking photos or just flying around.
In the US alone, 600,000 drones have been registered with the Federal Aviation Administration by owners as of early 2017, the numbers having surged after the Christmas season.
It’s likely there are many more in the US that are unregistered, and all around the world for certain seeing as drones now have a new purpose: being sustainable.
As always, science has created something new – and more science is going to make it work for the environment in all kinds of ways. So, how sustainable are manufactured drones?
A brief history of drones
Initially, drones were invented for military purposes. They were designed to drop bombs with the aim of completely removing air personnel from bombing missions so they couldn’t be injured or killed.
It works because drones are a remote-less, but somewhat controlled, aircraft that are nippy, quick and efficient.
The types of drones bought at Christmas and birthdays are known as ‘civilian drones’ and when building a drone of this kind, they will be manufactured smaller than the ones intended for military use.
Civilian drones often have camera equipment attached to them for great skyline images and general fun.
All drones have one thing in common: they’re intelligent. If they weren’t remote-less, they could not be labelled as ‘drones’, and would instead be ‘quadcopters’.
However, their intelligence means they can operate themselves (to an extent) and you don’t have to fly it like you would a remote-control helicopter, or drive a remote-control toy car. They really are marvellous.
Now drones have become so popular, many people are looking into their possible uses in the future, and how they may help to combat climate change. Hence why many people want to know how sustainable manufactured drones are really.
Sustainable brilliance or just another fad?
When first looking into the sustainability of drones, it’s easy to think that there’s a clear consensus on the concept that drones are a thumbs up for the environment. They are multi-purpose and have many possible uses to help with conservation and sustainability.
For example, drones are used to capture images of agricultural crops, forest areas and fire control, which is useful environmentally for a number of reasons.
There’s a reduction of pollutant emissions from ground or air control when drones are used for surveillance of this kind, and in the case of fires, there are less emissions all together as the fire can be dealt with before it reaches a critical point.
Drones are also being used to study air quality, pollen counts and the characteristics found in the atmosphere. The results of these studies are used to launch new scientific research projects, so drones are actively helping us learn about sustainability.
But what about real life sustainability?
It’s perfectly valid to ask if drones are sustainable in ‘real life’, outside of the realms of science and agriculture. The answer, though, is much less satisfying.
In 2013, Amazon announced it would be trialling delivery drones, solving what’s known as the ‘last mile problem’.
This problem is one faced by all companies who deliver to your door: how do they get the goods to your address without it costing excessive amounts?
Well, drones would solve that problem, and the problem of pollution, seeing as they’re battery-powered and don’t create air pollution.
However, this seemed to be the case until a Forbes article revealed some sticky statistics on delivery drones. The article found that a delivery van performs at 4.27 kJ/kg/km, while a drone delivers at 8.2 kJ/kg/km, meaning they’re not all they’re cracked up to be.
In real life, drones may not be as advanced sustainably as they are in other aspects of the world.
What’s next for drones and sustainability?
The previous revelations don’t mean you should give up on drones and their sustainability. In fact, the previous revelations should only give you hope for the future of this fantastic piece of air technology.
Work can be done to drones to make them properly sustainable for all aspects of life, not just for a few.
For example, electricity-free drones are going to be the future. So much so that Google is looking at high-altitude drones covered in solar panels.
One solar drone recently completed an 81-hour flight. So all is not lost when it comes to sustainability. As soon as the solar drone is created and pimped to its finest hour, delivery drones will follow suit – and then comes the real life change.
Drones are also the future of conservation, too. In ecologically fragile places, such as tropical rainforests, sustainable drones have started to be used to carry out studies and surveillance on the habitat and ecology.
The future for drones is bright. Bright green, that is.