Drones needed for ‘critical role’ combating climate change

Drones could play a “critical role” in helping scientists tackle climate change, according to an entrepreneur who has teamed up with the University of Southampton to improve both drone efficiency and battery life.

Tracking environmental degradation can be difficult to achieve, especially in large, unpopulated areas. Speaking to the press association (PA), technology entrepreneur Ewan Kirk said that drones are one of the easiest ways to collect important data from these remote regions.

A system was already demonstrated last year where data from remote IoT devices is harvested by passing drones that feed it back to a central database once they return to their charging station.

They are also being used to remotely monitor animals in national parks in South Africa to help prevent poaching and collect data on migration patterns and during the wildfire crisis in September, Australian authorities used drones to drop self-igniting “dragon eggs” in an attempt to control the spread of the fire.

While drones are useful for collecting important data from remote regions, their practicality has been restricted by their efficiency and battery life. While longer-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) do exist, they can be too expensive to deploy on a larger scale.

Speaking to PA, Kirk – who directs the Turner-Kirk Charitable Trust – said: “Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest issue facing us all and as we get to grips with tackling this issue I fundamentally believe the development and deployment of technology – including UAVs – has a critical role in our global response.

“In the fight against poaching, UAVs can be an incredibly valuable resource to authorities. For example, at over 7,000 square miles, the Kruger National Park in Africa is almost the same size as Wales and poaching can happen anywhere and at any time of the day or night.

“To effectively patrol this area, anti-poaching agencies need UAVs with long flight times and they need them to be cheap enough that they can have many of them flying simultaneously.”

He added he would like UAVs to be an essential tool at the fingertips of those environment agencies already helping in the fight against climate change.

“They will help them gather data much more quickly and fundamentally I believe technology enables world-leading experts to do their jobs even better,” Dr Kirk explained.

He concluded: “In the area of conservation, continuous monitoring of endangered animals by UAVs will enable authorities to identify potential threats and increase the response times for wardens to intercept and prevent any illegal activity.

“Using UAVs to effectively monitor vegetation and land over large areas will help scientists and researchers to create large data sets helping them understand how climate change is affecting some of the world’s most critical resources.”

The programme follows a £15,000 donation from Kirk and partner Patricia Turner. They will look at developing new ways to adapt existing drones on an inexpensive basis as well as studying novel aircraft configurations designed to minimise the energy requirements.

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