Drone (or UAV/UAS) technology suits a myriad of conservation and environmental protection applications — offering quick, easy and cost-effective aerial imagery, on demand.
From glacial feature modeling and erosion monitoring to animal counting and species identification, the list of projects that drones are being used for is long and continues to grow.
There are many reasons why professionals such as environmental engineers and scientific researchers are increasingly using drones, often in place of terrestrial surveying equipment or traditional aerial imaging services. The benefits these professionals often mention include:
A drone can be launched on demand—weather and regulation permitting—without needing to source and book manned aircraft services (if these exist in the region) or commission and wait for satellite imagery.
A UAV produces completely up-to-date imagery. This makes drones suited to time-sensitive projects and for monitoring locations at regular intervals (i.e. using the same flight plan each time).
Unlike traditional surveying techniques, using a drone is fast and requires minimal staff, plus using an aerial approach overcomes common site access issues such as impenetrable vegetation, boulders, crevasses etc.
Used regularly, the per-project cost of a professional drone system is typically lower than third-party alternatives such as manned imaging aircraft, with a drone system often providing a complete ROI in as little as a few months or a few large projects.
Small and light electric-powered drones, especially fixed-wing aircraft, make little noise and are often bird-shaped, meaning animals on the ground are rarely disturbed by these tools, if they notice them at all.
Rotary (helicopter) drone systems are best suited to monitoring and charting smaller areas, enabling operators to capture video imagery and respond to this feedback live, while fixed-wing UAVs, such as senseFly's eBee, allow users to map larger areas in a single autonomous flight.