Drones in conservation science – the next big step?

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2020-06-30 18:55:45

Drones have come a long way in the last couple of decades – and with the development of ever-increasing battery efficiency this technology is becoming more and more accessible to conservation. Where is the field now, and where might further advances take us?

My PhD work is (well was… thanks corona) focussed on how we can apply drone technology to better understand how tropical forests function and, importantly, how they respond to human pressures. I work (was planning to work… thanks corona) in the heart of Danum Valley, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, with experimental sites which are 1,200 acres in size and contain thousands of trees. Now traditional field studies of growth and survival of these trees takes a lot of manpower, expertise, and (critically) time, so if there were rather ways to obtain values for how well a forest is growing without actually having to be there then we can more efficiently learn how to best manage the worlds natural resources. Although remote sensing via satellites are now well-established, the potential for drone tech has only recently been investigated.

Drones have had a bit of an assorted history in the last two decades. Also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), a drone is generally defined as an “unmanned aircraft or ship guided by remote control or onboard sensors”. Forgetting the terminology, drones were originally a technology developed for military use, initially for surveillance purposes but later took on more offensive roles. Think the ending of ‘London Has Fallen’ to understand the public perception of drone tech in the early 2000’s.

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