Drones – the newest environmental heroes

Drones and the environment. At first thought, perhaps not natural bedfellows. Yet these small vehicles have been increasingly proving themselves as powerful allies against ecological threats.

Recent advances have meant that this technology is being used to tackle environmental disasters, such as oil spills and large scale waste in vulnerable ecologies. Drones continue to be successful in managing issues such as spreading pollution, and are flexible enough to carry out research effectively in difficult to reach areas without having to resort to other more intrusive and expensive traditional methods. They are unmanned, which reduces risk, labour and time. When it comes to the positive impact they are having on the environment, small really is mighty.

Quick reactions

In the case of ecological disasters such as oil spills or natural catastrophes such as earthquakes or landslides, time really is of the essence. The quicker the extent of the problem is assessed, the sooner it can begin to be remedied. This is where drones have really come into their own. Rather than sending human workforces into dangerous and often vast inhospitable expanses, a swarm of lightweight drones can reach highly inaccessible areas such as oceans and deserts much more quickly. In the aftermath of an event which has made rescue difficult, drones have also been deployed to drop care packages into affected areas.

"""Take firefighting, for example. The KAT drone can operate in hazardous situations without exposing personnel to either high temperatures or fumes." -Andreas Desch, Stromkind managing director

Andreas Desch, CEO of Stromkind, an unmanned vehicle development company, points out that removing human exposure in hazardous environments is one of this technology's main advantages. 'Take firefighting, for example. Our KAT drone can operate in hazardous situations without exposing personnel to either high temperatures or fumes.' Stromkind recently won the Pioneers 2017 award for their drone design. The prize for the awards, which celebrate tech innovation, included mentorship sessions with investor Tim Draper, communications expert Nancy Duarte and Y Combinator CEO Michael Seibel.

Reducing carbon emissions

Fleets of fuel guzzling vehicles, carbon emitting aeroplanes, even large ships - in the past, all have been used to monitor pollution, deliver cargo or attend to environmental issues whilst simultaneously producing a significant level of emissions.

While drones do use fuel to stay aloft, particularly when transporting heavy loads, emissions are comparably lower according to a recent study by the University of Washington. Drones also have a valuable role to play in the identification of emissions, with the development of sensors that can analyse the level of gasses being produced in industrial areas.

Navigating renewable energy farms

Renewable energy farms such as solar and wind stretch over huge, often inhospitable, areas. As such, they are difficult to manage, and if a fault occurs it is time-consuming to first find, then address the problem.

This is where drones come in. Capable of covering vast distances quickly, yet flexible enough to identify very small issues, these unmanned vehicles are proving invaluable inspecting equipment on solar farms. In the past, drones have lacked the sophisticated technology to be able to actively assist in the establishment and maintenance of farms like this but recent advances in computer technology and engineering design have meant that they are able to play a much more involved role.

'You have surveillance, cargo transportation, firefighting, environmental protection and of course water cleaning,' explains Desch, whose most recent design is a drone that focuses on water cleaning and management, and is shortly to be deployed in the US to localize seaweed in problem areas. 'The markets are huge. We aren't just a drone that takes photos. We don't want a passive product that just accepts that problems happens. We try to prevent problems from happening.'

The next steps in drone technology

In recent years unmanned vehicles have become increasingly valued by environmental organisations, with wide ranging capabilities that include monitoring wildlife migration and even tracking animal poachers. After all, they are quick to release and offer a high level of clarity in images and excellent data capture potential. So what is the next step? As development continues usage will become more widespread, and the opportunity for businesses such as renewable farms to cut cost by using drones grow alongside investment into these areas.

Lightweight, fast, flexible and with little impact on the environment, drones are being used ever more frequently to tackle environmental issues such as pollution, monitoring emissions, natural disasters and the maintenance of renewable energy farms at a fraction of the cost.

In doing so, and in line with sophisticated technological advances, they are moving away from their historical reputation of being damaging or intrusive. In fact, drones are increasingly being hailed as the promising new solution to complex ecological problems.

Stromkind’s founders have previously designed and sold autononous helicopters to international clients before they founded Stromkind in 2016. At that time the team realized that there is a large untapped opportunity for autonomous sea applications.

Building reliable, clean and simple to use aquatic drones that operate for multiple days or weeks impose big technological challenges. Stromkind’s first product release has the shape of a small katamaran. It is modular and can be equipped with a variety of sensors. The team invented an entirely new electrical propulsion that is superefficient and highly robust against all sorts of debris and seaweed. Powered by a combination of solar and energy harvesting the katamaran operates on wide areas for several weeks.

To learn more about Stromkind, click here

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