If any technology is to be considered the technology of the moment, I think drones would get that title. Chris Anderson, former editor in chief of Wired Magazine, left his position to run a start-up that builds drones. It's almost impossible to turn on NPR without hearing a story related to drones. They are the future, and luckily they're not relegated to military missions.
One of the areas that drones have proven most useful is animal conservation. Game reserves in Asia and Africa have utilized the unmanned aerial technology to keep an eye out for poachers who have grown increasingly more sophisticated in their approach.
The latest reserve to employ the technology is the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya, a 90,000-acre game reserve that is home to endangered black and white rhinos, elephants, leopards, lions and chimpanzees. Since late 2009, it has been home to four of the last seven northern white rhinos left in the world. Rhino poaching has become a growing problem for the reserve with the soaring price of rhino horn and 190-man security team has been unable to effectively patrol the sprawling area with increasingly aggressive poachers.
Last week, the Kenyan conservancy successfully concluded its campaign to raise $35,000 via crowd-funding website Indiegogo to help it buy its first drone from U.S. company Unmanned Innovation Inc. The electrically powered "aerial ranger," with a final cost of about $70,000, will be fitted with a high-definition camera featuring a powerful zoom for day operations and infrared thermal imaging for night flights.
Each aerial mission is expected to cover an area of 50 square miles over a 90-minute flight. It will fly three or four times a day, monitoring the locations of the endangered species and transmitting a live stream to a laptop on the ground, providing key information that will enable rangers to reach vulnerable areas and fend off any potential poaching dangers.
"On the most basic level, it's just a sheer deterrent factor," said Rob Breare, who is heading up the Kenyan conservancy's project. "If people hear them, if they know there's an eye in the sky, it's a huge deterrence to try anything."
"The next level up is what we call observation -- the ability to use our camera footage to see what's going on in situations and direct our rangers to a location."
The conservancy will use the drones to track the movements of all of its 110 rhinos each day and hope to expand the drone program as well as start using even more technology like unique radio frequency ID tags for each of the rhinos and other endangered animals in the park in the near future.