There's a Green Side to Drones

John Cherbini and Joshua Ott of 3D Robotics, setting up a thermal imaging camera for infrared shots of a field at the Berkeley, Calif. Marina. (Photo by Aarti Shahani)
June 21, 2013 - 6:30am

Drones are already being used in many ways, from the military to engineering to journalism.  The University of Nebraska-Lincoln has created its own drone journalism lab to explore ways drones could be used for reporting.

Our QUEST Northern California partner reported recently on the possible environmental and scientific applications of drones, including ones for agriculture:

(Chris) Anderson (who quit his job as editor-in-chief of Wired Magazine to build 3D Robotics) says farmers could use this kind of data gathering and image processing for crop surveys, to figure out what plants need water.

"A healthy plant will absorb the red light, but reflect the infrared,” he explains. “But as chlorophyll is damaged, it'll start to reflect the red as well. So the ratio of the infrared and the red tells you the health of the plant."

The application isn’t quite ready to go wheels-up. Anderson is still working on getting his drones to tell up from down. The accelerators, the gyroscopes, the magnetometers and GPS have to get better at correcting each other.

Also, it's illegal to fly drones for profit. The Federal Aviation Administration is expected to issue regulations by 2015. Anderson points out that a camera on a drone is far more regulated than the one in his iPhone. "We've seen what camera phones have done to spread cameras everywhere, except for in the sky. The sky's empty."

Read more from this article by guest contributor Aarti Shahani on the QUEST Science website here.  Watch a drone flight over Lake Merritt in California below.


Photo: Systems Program, UC Berkeley Engineering

QUEST is a multi-media science reporting project focusing on the many ways in which science, technology, engineering and sheer ingenuity are being used to address sustainability issues related to our food, energy, water, climate, and biodiversity. QUEST partners include QUEST Northern California (KQED, San Francisco), QUEST Nebraska (NET, Nebraska), QUEST North Carolina (UNC-TV, North Carolina), QUEST Northwest (KCTS 9, Seattle), QUEST Ohio (WVIZ, WCPN, Ideastream, Cleveland) and QUEST Wisconsin (WPR, WPT, ECB, ICS, Wisconsin).  QUEST is funded by the National Science Foundation.

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