IoT technology has provided numerous solutions that can support climate action. This article discusses the role of drones in fighting climate change.
Climate change is the defining problem of modern times. From changing weather patterns that endanger food production to rising sea levels that dramatically increase the risk of catastrophic flooding, the effects of climate change are unprecedented in scope and scale.
Because of its pervasiveness and impact, climate change requires concerted, coordinated action across many different fronts. Therefore, in addition to working together, stakeholders, including governments, NGOs, and businesses, must utilize all the tools at their disposal to save the planet.
Thankfully, technological advancements have given rise to new solutions with immense potential to bolster climate change. Among the most impactful tools is the Internet of Things, whose exponentially growing range of connected devices and increasingly robust networks provide unprecedented climate data collection and analysis capabilities.
Connected sensors and cameras are already being used to predict and prevent natural disasters, analyze energy consumption patterns, and improve environmental reporting processes. Now, drones have joined the fight, unlocking even more unexplored avenues for climate change mitigation.
In today's article, we discuss the significant role of drones in fighting climate change.
Drones: extending IoT to the sky
When drones first emerged, they were mostly used for military purposes. Today, however, their capabilities have been harnessed for a broad range of commercial and civilian applications. From making quick deliveries to providing aerial mapping and surveying services, drones are now an integral part of many industries.
Besides having the ability to fly autonomously, drones are exceedingly versatile because they can carry a vast range of equipment. Basic drone gear includes navigation and communications devices like GPS and Wi-Fi and various imaging devices.
Depending on their applications, drones may also be fitted with sensors that monitor temperature, humidity, air quality, and radiation levels. The data they collect is transmitted and processed in real-time, similar to other IoT devices.
Drone technology dramatically expands the reach of mobile IoT by adding endpoints that extend IoT networks beyond what would otherwise be considered physical limitations. In other words, drones can go where traditional equipment cannot and collect vital data regarding processes, parameters, and conditions.
How are drones supporting climate action?
According to Gartner
, construction is the sector utilizing drone technology the most, followed by fire monitoring services, police departments, and insurance companies. However, drones have increasingly found use in climate action, helping organizations monitor, document, and respond to environmental challenges.
Below are four compelling ways drones are helping combat climate change.
1. Documenting climate change impact
Anyone who has watched drone footage knows they offer an awe-inspiring perspective of the world below. This unique vantage point is valuable for documenting the impact of climate change. In recent years, drones have captured some of the most distressing images of our time, from melting glaciers to devastating deforestation.
In 2021, Greenpeace conducted an aerial investigation in the Amazon rainforest
to document illegal deforestation and burning. The drone footage and images revealed large areas consumed by fire, scars from mining activities, illegal landing strips, and vast plots of farmed land.
Using drones to document environmental issues helps climate scientists track progression more effectively and creates new opportunities for public engagement and activism.
2. Making urban delivery networks green
According to the ICLEI
, freight transport accounts for about 25% of all urban traffic and creates 40% of transport-related emissions. Moreover, demand for delivery services is on the rise, expected to increase by more than 30%
in the world's 100 most populated cities by 2030.
Urban planners and city administrators often prioritize investments that help improve passenger transportation over goods deliveries. Nevertheless, drone technology provides viable opportunities for cities to make deliveries more efficient and minimize their impact on the environment.
In 2019, UPS completed the first revenue-generating drone delivery
in the United States, transporting prescribed medicines from a CVS pharmacy to two customers in North Carolina. Since then, UPS has demonstrated a drone's ability to transport various goods, including food, clothing, and other retail items, saving time and money while reducing emissions.
3. Maintaining planet-friendly installations
Besides actively collecting climate and environment data, drones can significantly simplify the inspection of devices and installations that support sustainability.
For instance, a drone can be deployed to check the physical condition of tower-based air pollution sensors, wind turbines, and solar panels, making inspection safer and more efficient while allowing for pre-emptive and more frequent maintenance.
Spanish utility company Iberdrola currently deploys drones
as a cheaper, more effective way to inspect wind turbine installations. Iberdrola uses the Arachnocopter, a multirotor folding helicopter that generates X-ray images of turbines, enabling maintenance teams to detect structural problems like corrosion or hot spots safely and without disassembling.
4. Planting trees and supporting pollination
Trees are integral to mitigating climate change. They absorb carbon dioxide and oxygenate the atmosphere, help regulate local temperature, reduce soil erosion, and support wildlife. However, global tree cover has been steadily declining over the last several years, shrinking by an average of 10% year-on-year
Although conservationists can utilize drones to monitor the causes of forest decline and collect data that will better inform policy, drones can also reinforce reforestation efforts by planting trees en masse.
BioCarbon Engineering, a UK-based start-up, created a drone that can plant as many as 120 trees per minute. The drone maps an area with high-resolution images to generate a 3D terrain model and then fires pods filled with germinated seeds into the ground with half-inch precision.
Drones can also rejuvenate tree cover by supporting pollination where bee populations are struggling. Japan's Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology demonstrated this unique application in 2017 when it deployed a 1.5-inch drone to pollinate lilies
. The research team successfully transferred pollen with the drone, opening up the possibility of using drones to mass-pollinate plants in the future.
Reinforce your climate action efforts with drone technology
Drones are becoming an increasingly important tool in the fight against climate change. Their ability to quickly and efficiently collect data, monitor parameters, inspect installations, and improve plant cover can substantially bolster efforts against climate change.
As drone technology continues to develop, we will likely see even more applications for drones in sustainability efforts in the years ahead.
So, are you an organization looking for innovative ways to support your climate change initiatives? If so, you have a lot to gain by incorporating drones and related IoT solutions into your strategy.