Project Details


Conservation Drones

Using drones to map ecological diversity in inaccessible areas.

By ConservationDrones

Project URL:
Project Twitter: @ConservDrones

  • Community Engagement
  • Environment & Sustainability
  • Geolocation
  • Mobile
  • Physical Computing

Drones have fast become symbols of imperial power and aggression, forensically striking at targets while being remotely controlled from an air-conditioned command centre many thousands of miles away.

Yet military technologies have a long history of being adapted for civil purposes. US military researchers played a critical role in the early development of the internet. Even now the social potential of drones is starting to be explored. All over the world people are starting to hack and remake drones so they can be put to social good.

The machines being used by Conservation Drones (CD) to reduce the costs of ecological monitoring owe more to the long-established, resolutely unhip ‘maker movement’of radio-controlled planes than they do to sinister military hardware. The ‘How to build a drone’ section on the CD website exemplifies their open source ethos. The barriers to entry into the drone market are getting lower all the time. Hardware costs for a self-build drone are in the $100s; more upmarket versions cost just over $1,000 and there is plenty of software, support and advice freely available.

For CD’s sphere of activity, the argument for using drones is pretty unequivocal: mapping populations of, for example, orangutans in the jungles of Borneo has traditionally required a person with binoculars, a lot of trekking time and, therefore, money. Whilst an aerial survey will never be as exhaustive, the decreased cost and massively increased speed tip the balance in favour of using remotely controlled drones. The approach is combined with citizen science: CD has uploaded to YouTube videos of aerial passes made by its drones so volunteers can view them to spot orangutan nests.

Given the increasing accessibility and diversity of possible applications of drones (or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, UAVs, to give them their less portentous name), it is likely that CD will come to be viewed as a trailblazing organisation. It is perhaps unsurprising that the lead is being taken in the relatively uncontroversial field of conservation. No doubt along the way there will be moral panics about military technologies falling into the wrong hands. Drones could, in theory, be used by companies to monitor the productivity of a remote workforce or the police to keep check on motorists.

Image courtesy of Conservation Drones

Last updated: 09th of May, 2014

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