Drones avoid and mitigate effects

For May my posts are on specific technologies. NZ’s TechWeekNZ event starts 19 May, so I am also aiming to mention some Kiwi firms leading the way in the featured technology. 

Drones,  are technically UAV’s (unmanned aerial vehicle). The drone term comes from the early application in military work. Terms which include the vehicle plus the supporting software and procedures are RPAS (remotely piloted aircraft system) or UAS (unmanned aerial system).

Some first uses include:

  • Aerial photography (seen often in real estate photography)
  • Surveying
  • Infrastructure work (inspecting electricity lines, stringing lines)
  • Agricultural work
  • Filming and events

UAV can carry one or more of the following:

  • sound devices either speakers to emit sound or microphones to collect it
  • cameras to collect images either still or film
  • sensors to collect data and even samples can be collected
  • lights to either illuminate a location or with special effects can display variable lighting (see video of one such use to replace fireworks)
  • robotic arms to carry or move objects (see video of UAV constructing)

Looking ahead, UAV are simply a  means of getting the attached equipment out into the environment. We often think of drones on a specific mission which involves staying in flight and then returning to the operator once the task is completed. Many can be dispatched and actually land somewhere to operate for a fixed period before returning. If they contain the necessary attachment they can hook themselves on to other vehicles, on to trees or float in rivers. So really they are just a mobile means of applying many forms of digital technology out in the field. And for resource management professionals this offers the ability to effectively be out there in the environment when and where the effects occur. This allows us to be more effective and accurate with our work.

How will drones help manage environmental effects?

Drones will give us more tools for our work:

  • new and cost effective means to collect information about natural and physical resources e.g. aerial photography or surveying of remote locations, imagery of lengths of rivers, railways or roads which can be difficult for a human to access and view in their entirety
  • more up to date and cost effective aerial photography compared to images captured by manned aircraft; plus the ability to capture oblique imagery which stakeholders may understand better than a top down view
  • real time monitoring and reporting using image, sound or sampling collecting equipment
  • closer supervision of construction activities and the ability to identify failures in mitigation measures immediately

More importantly drones will change the very effects of the activities we manage:

  • provide alternatives to the adverse effects of accessing remote places e.g. drones can avoid the need for vegetation removal and earthworks if human workers do not need to access a location – these access effects can often be more extensive than  the effects of the proposed activity to be constructed.
  • better environmental management of effects of large events and temporary activities – see example above of light shows without the noise of fireworks which wake up the rest of the city’s inhabitants.
  • inbuilt accurate monitoring and management of primary industries, industrial activities and other business or infrastructure activities allowing more exact thresholds to be set and maintained.
  • traffic effects of many land uses via delivery of products to consumers or businesses – no more postal delivery, couriers, food delivery, grocery delivery, parts/supplier delivery – this changes our assumptions around the level of traffic associated with households and businesses. This does require remote and automated operation of UAV’s which is not available in NZ yet. Amazon is trialing it in Cambridge, England under the brand Amazon Prime Air– see the video on the page. Once it is rolled out to Amazon customers more widely, we can expect to see it in NZ centres)

Of course drones will have their own environmental effects but aviation authorities around the world are working on the necessary regulations and safeguards.

Drones in NZ

The UAVNZ group  is  a division of Aviation NZ and promotes the UAV industry in NZ. Airshare is the website for UAV in NZ including educating drone operators and offering commercial drone operators for hire. The categories of drone work on the Airshare booking form illustrate how varied the uses of UAV in NZ already are. These include Real Estate, Training, Film and Television, Events, Weddings, Mapping and Surveying, Tourism, Construction, Agriculture, Environment and Landscape, Infrastructure, Advertising, Emergency Services, System Suppliers, Insurance, Research and Development.

Drone developers in NZ

This month I have been adding a NZ connection to all these featured technologies. With drones, China is mass producing for the world market with the US driving innovation as well. There are some specialist innovators in NZ – here is a Herald article from last year which discusses NZ drone producers.



Techweek starts tomorrow 19 May and runs for 9 days throughout NZ. If you don’t live in a main centre, four of the keynote presentations from TechWeek will be broadcast on the web for free – see Webcast Techweek sessions  (scroll down the linked page to the four images).

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