Drones have become both an incredible aid in environmental and social good matters like protecting wildlife from poachers and delivering much needed medical supplies to remote areas, and an incredible nuisance thanks to them being in the hands of countless people now using them for entertainment purposes.
Regardless of how you feel about them, it's clear that we've only seen the tip of the iceberg of their potential applications. A recent test flight done by UK commercial drone operator Ocuair has pushed that potential further. The company was able to successfully fly a custom-built quadcopter across the English Channel, a first for these unmanned vehicles.
While most recreational quadcopters hit a maximum flight time of 25 minutes, the 21.7 mile journey across the waterway took 72 minutes. Called Enduro, the craft took off from a beach in Northern France and landed safely on Shakespeare Beach in Dover, England. During the trip the quadcopter was trailed by its pilot, Operations Director Richard Gill, in a boat that stayed within 500 meters of the drone. The Channel is the busiest shipping lane in the world and the drone and the boat had to dodge between two large vessels along the way.
“Small, unmanned aerial vehicles are the next horizon in aviation so I wanted to see if I could do something to push the technology in a meaningful way. The UK leads the world in terms of legislation, I thought it would be good to see us lead the world in commercial UAV applications too,” Gill said.
I just wrote last week about how drones are replacing motorbikes for aid delivery in Rwanda.For now the drones will fly from strategically-placed hubs out to more rural areas, but if drones can be built for longer flights, more people and areas could be reached in Rwanda and beyond.
For organizations that use drones for poaching surveillance and wildlife monitoring, longer flights could mean better protection for the animals with fewer stops in between.
Beyond just aid deliveries, it's likely this test flight will further spur tech companies like Amazon and Google that are working on commercial delivery services using drones around the world.