The word "drone" is synonymous with autonomous military aircraft that hail down death and destruction from on high. But the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is looking to highlight the humanitarian potential of the technology with its Drones For Good competition. Entrants include vehicles that detect landmines, plant trees and service slums all in the hunt for the industry's most prestigious (and probably only) prize, with the inaugural first place winner set to be announced next week to take home US$1 million.
Opening to UAV enthusiasts all over the globe back in May 2014, the Drones For Good international competition called on ideas with the potential to advance drone technology that provide actual solutions to actual problems. Organizers asked that entrants be able to demonstrate a functioning prototype, which could then evolve into a real-world solution within one to three years.
We featured one of the competition's finalists back in November, a proposal for drone delivery nets that could serve as tomorrow's mailboxes, but it is by no means the only idea worth noting.
UN-HABITAT estimates that in Kenya, roughly 60 percent of the urban population lives in slums and has to deal with inadequate infrastructure and lack of access to services such as water and sanitation. David Kiarie, a Kenyan freelance journalist, believes that low-flying drones could capture spatial data and better inform the development of these areas, ultimately reducing poverty and saving lives.
Meanwhile, how forests can be re-planted at the same rate they are being ripped up is a pressing question for conservationists. To this end, a team called BioCarbon Engineering has put together a proposal that would see drones fly over reforestation zones and shoot biodegradable seedpods into the ground at strategic locations. It calls the project "Drones for Planting 1 Billion Trees a Year," presumably because it plans on achieving just that.
Another impressive submission is designed to help detect the 120,000 landmines scattered around Bosnia-Herzegovina, a deadly hangover from the war of the 1990s. The solution would use purpose-built aircraft to scan the terrain from above with optical sensors and electronics, a technique the team says would be quicker and less dangerous than current methods.