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Drones: Not just for war anymore?

Drone warfare isn't going anywhere, but drone utility could be growing. Marc Lallanilla, assistant editor at Live Science, proposes eight "totally cool" new uses for drones.

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Atmospheric research

Ozone in the upper atmosphere plays a critical role in protecting the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation.

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To better understand how water vapor and ozone interact, NASA is sending a UAV into the stratosphere — the layer of the atmosphere where protective ozone is found — above the tropics.

The flights are the first of a multiyear campaign to study how changes in water vapor in the stratosphere can affect global climate.

Hunting — and anti-hunting

Wild hogs ruining your crops? Get yourself a "Dehogaflier," a drone devised by engineer Cy Brown of Bunkie, La., which uses a heat-sensing camera to find feral hogs at night. The drone saves time otherwise wasted wandering muddy fields in the dark.

"Now you can know in 15 minutes if it's worth going out," Brown told the New York Times.

Drones have also been used by animal-rights advocates to determine if illegal hunting is taking place, even on private property. Drones equipped with video cameras are being used by the League Against Cruel Sports, a British animal-rights group, to spot instances of illegal fox hunting.

Disaster relief

Drones have a wide range of applications for disaster relief, from entering radiation-filled "hot zones" where human access would be dangerous (after a nuclear accident, for example) to searching for survivors across a debris-filled landscape.

George Barbastathis and others at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to hard-to-reach locations and disaster zones, reports.

Environmental compliance

Midnight dumping of toxic waste and other surreptitious activities are the bane of environmental law enforcement. But drones may prove to be a cost-effective solution to that problem.

A drone hobbyist in Texas discovered a river of blood flowing into the Trinity River near Dallas. "I was looking at images after the flight that showed a blood-red creek and was thinking, 'Could this really be what I think it is?'" he told sUAS News.

The blood, it turns out, was coming from a meat-packing plant that was discharging into the river. The facility was soon under investigation by Texas environmental authorities.

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