|Since drones were first used in an unmanned strike in 2002 in Paktia province, Afghanistan which targeted Osama bin Laden, we have tended to think of their use in warfare. Although that strike was unsuccessful as bin Laden was not there, three al Qaeda operatives were killed. The Bush administration went on to authorize another fifty drone strikes. The Obama administration conducted a total of 506 drone strikes that were piloted by humans hundreds of miles away in American military bases. Pilots were so far removed from the killings that the military term for drone kill was "bug splat." In the Trump era, three authorized drone strikes in Yemen on alleged members of al Qaeda killed thirty people including ten women and children.
Everyone is aware of the use of drones in warfare though the extent might surprise some readers. A typical drone used in those operations is shown below.
While we could debate the ethics of exposing innocent people to attempts to eliminate certain bad actors, the use of drones is pretty much entrenched in modern warfare. In fact, the next generation of drones are cluster bomb drones dropped in a container from aircraft or fired from ground or sea. They open up in the air to release large numbers of individual cluster bomb drones that "loiter" in the air in a holding pattern until directed to their target. They may look less sinister than their big brothers but a number of them can be equally deadly and provide a much greater degree of strike optionality.
On the other hand, the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang Olympic Games produced a marvelous example of the use of drones in unprecedented pageantry. An Intel-sponsored and directed effort put a record-setting 1,218 drones joined in the air in a marvelous mechanical display. Anil Nanduri, Technical General Manager of Intel's drone group said, "It's in essence technology meeting art."
Drones such as the Intel one shown below can fly for some twenty minutes and are only limited by current lithium ion battery technology.
In the September 6, 2017 Elephant Story blog entitled Drones and Beekeepers-Elephant Mahouts of the Future, we reviewed an elephant control and monitoring program utilizing drones to combat ivory poaching in Malawi which is shown below. In fact, The Elephant Story has provided support to Wildlife 1 Foundation's Karen Wildlife Conservation Initiative for the Karen Forest Department in Myanmar to conduct a monitoring of Asian elephants in the wild. There will be more news on that effort as the program develops.
The Nikkei Asian Review recently ran an article entitled Using Drones to Replant Forests which featured the efforts of Stephen Elliott located in Mae Sa Mai in northern Thailand to bomb hillsides with seeds from the sky utilizing drones. Stephen Elliot, shown below, is a biologist and pioneer in the regrowth of what may be the earth's most complex ecosystem-a tropical forest. To accomplish that mission, he is utilizing drones to perform tasks that could only realistically be done by large numbers of people in a remote, treacherous terrain setting.
Such savings in time and effort could be significant in addressing a global recovery for forests which are being cut at a rate of some 48 football fields a minute according to the World Wide Fund for Nature. To remove climate change-inducing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the United Nation's New York Declaration on Forests in 2014 set a goal to reforest 350 million hectares-a size comparable to India-by 2030. Elliott's position is that to accomplish massive reforestation we have to drag the technology from the Stone Age to the drone age.
We may be at the threshold of a point in time when drones can shake their historical image of warfare and move into more humanitarian applications to save nature and the environment. Moreover, our own lifestyle quality can be impacted by their use in artistic forms and more practical concepts such as delivery agents to remote and difficult locations, be it seeds or commercial package delivery.