Whale snot is ejected from the whale’s blowhole, mixed with ocean water, and then shot up to the blue skies of the open sea. The debt collector? A drone. Students from the Olin College of Engineering are flying drones over pods of whales waiting for these snot rockets to be blown up onto their drones so that they can collect data about their health status. Interestingly enough, whale snot provides health information about the whale in a similar way that blood tests provide information about our state of well-being.
This is just one of the many ways in which drones are being used for scientific purposes. These data collectors have also been helping polar research, volcanic studies, and wildlife biology.
A few interesting studies currently taking place include the use of drones on farmland, hurricane hunting, mapping endangered species, and ocean testing.
Farmers are able to use these unmanned flying machines to photograph their vast farmland and detect abnormalities that may be unknowingly occurring. Typically farmers have to survey their land by foot, taking note of which areas need more water, less water, are ready to harvest, have odd discolorations, and more. It is difficult for farmers to do surveys like this because of the large amount of land they have to cover and the difficulty it takes to organize and keep track of the areas in which they find these abnormalities. With drones, they are able to fly through the farmlands at a much quicker speed, taking photographs of the agriculture. Farmers can then take a look at the photographs and know where changes need to be made on their land. Some farmers are even using drones at night that cast light on their crops during the dark hours to persuade the crops to grow faster.
While farmers use drones to merely speed up and help organize their work, Hurricane Hunting drones are saving lives. Drones can actually enter the heart of a storm without concern for human life being at risk. Once inside the storm they are able to take measurements needed to understand storms and help make predictions for future storms. The drones presently being used for this purpose can fly for up to 30 hours and 11,000 miles. Their wingspan is a large 116 feet, all of which allows them to perform long-term surveillance that is valuable to the meteorologists who used to have to enter the storms themselves.
To continue on the line of saving lives, drones are also being used to track endangered species in the forests of south-east Asia. A dozen drones armed with cameras are being put on autopilot and released into the tropical forests to take video surveillance of the primates living there. Oil-palm plantations there are spreading like wildfire, which is ruining the primate’s natural habitats.
And then there are drones that dive into the depths of the ocean! These unmanned drones are generally called gliders, but are more versatile and cost less than other scientifically used submersibles. Each glider costs in the neighborhood of $125,000 to $150,000 each. These gliders take to the expanse of the ocean through their large swooping motions gathering information about the ocean’s temperature, currents, salinity, and great white shark populations.
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