The Next Big Conservation Tool? Pilotless Drones

Sgt_gerst_UAV_launchA U.S. Army sergeant launches a UAV. Photo: The U.S. Army

Ecologists and conservationists have long and frustrating lists of hurdles that keep them from doing field work. Aside from the wild, dangerous miles between them and the remote regions of the world they need to examine, there are unfriendly governments and armed militias. There's the high cost and complexity of traveling to remote jungles or tundras. And sometimes the act of transporting oneself to a research site can actually hurt the research -- in the Arctic, emissions from gas-powered snowmobiles can skew the air samples that researchers need to capture.

Enter, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), remotely controlled drones, equipped with camera, GPS and a range of other sensors, that have long used for military surveillance applications. Today, conservationists, ecologists and other environmental researchers are turning UAVs to do everything from mapping deforestation to counting wildlife to collecting data in disaster areas, such as offshore oil spills or accidents at nuclear energy plants.

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