Drones have continued to capture our imagination in remarkable ways throughout 2015. Despite the thick layers of bureaucracy that outlaw commercial use in much of the world, fresh ideas itching to put the technology to use constantly come to the fore. Let's cast our eye over some of the more promising to emerge this year; a diverse list that includes everything from drones that deliver medical supplies to drones that can build bridges all by themselves.
Heating bills in colder climates can be a nasty surprise and turning the thermostat down on a chilly night can be an unpleasant exercise in economy. Room in Room is a modern take on the four poster bed from tentmaker iKamper that aims to help reduce those heating bills. Based on popular South Korean indoor tents, it's designed to go over the bed and conserve a sleeper's heat, so the room temperature can be kept down.
Just as drones have transformed wildlife conservation and illegal fishing patrols, they may soon make a big impression on forest conservation. Unmanned aerial vehicles could replace people in monitoring forest regeneration projects in the tropics, with consequent savings in time and money as well as much-improved data collection.
Radio tags have made things easier for environmental scientists tracking animal movements, but they still involve spending a lot of time and money traipsing over land by foot in search of a signal. This is particularly pertinent for Australian National University's (ANU) Debbie Saunders, who has spent years trying to track small, evasive birds. But work is set to become easier for Saunders and her team, who have developed the first radio-tracking drone that locates radio-tagged wildlife in a fraction of the time of previous methods.
Gathering good biological data about whales can be difficult without bugging the big mammals with large planes, boats, tags, sampling darts or even biopsies and lethal study techniques. Instead, the Ocean Alliance wants to send custom drones to collect whale mucus – aka snot – for study and they've enlisted the help of Sir Patrick Stewart for the crowdfunding effort to finance the project.
Getting eyes in the sky could mean great things for conservation efforts of all kinds. Already we are seeing drones put to use in ridding Australia's rainforests of invasive weeds, warding off would-be poachers of African wildlife and monitoring killer whales off the west coast of North America. Another beneficiary of this versatile technology could be endangered chimpanzees living in remote jungle locations. By equipping drones with cameras researchers have been able to pick out their nests from above, greatly assisting in efforts to conserve their dwindling populations.
It wasn't long ago that we heard about an effort to create synthetic rhino horn,
the low price of which could be used to put suppliers of real horn out
of business. Now, however, the Protect project is aiming at catching
poachers in the act. Amongst other things, it would involve putting
video cameras in the horns of living rhinos.
A team of scientists, led by the University of Washinton's Dr Chuck Murray, has successfully crowdfunded a project to sequence the genome of the black rhinoceros – a species that's been poached to near extinction. The effort is an important step in the conservation of the species, of which there are barely more than five thousand remaining.
When asked to name an endangered species, rhinos are probably one of the
first animals to come to most peoples' minds. In both Africa and Asia,
poaching is causing populations to plummet, due mainly to demand for
rhino horn as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine – whether or
not it actually has any medicinal value is another question
altogether. In any case, San Francisco-based biotech startup Pembient is
developing what it hopes could be a solution: inexpensive bioengineered
rhino horn, which could out-compete the genuine item.