We all know that drones are proving to be useful tools in a wide range of industries. But so are calculators and hard hats, along with any number of innovations that have occurred over the years.
The question is, what makes drones so special? What sets this technology apart from what has gone before, and why should be interested in continued innovation in the drone industry?
Aside from drones servicing leading industries, there are plenty of other reasons, which mainly boil down to three things: Saving lives, saving the planet and inspiring the next generation of scientists and technologists.
Let's start with arguably the most important reason that drone technology is important: it saves lives.
Whether they are delivering medical supplies in rural Africa or leading the way for first responders during a mountain rescue, it's clear that drones have the capability of getting important things from A to B and offering an eye in the sky when it's needed most.
Back in March, manufacturer DJI released a report stating that in the preceding year, "drones have rescued at least 59 people from life-threatening conditions in 18 separate incidents around the globe."
These numbers are only going to rise as more emergency services adopt the technology and more medical delivery use cases evolve.
But an often overlooked way that drones save lives is their use during dangerous tasks. Inspecting infrastructure, such as bridges and cell towers, can be risky business. Engineers have traditionally been put in harm's way as part of the job, purely because there's no other way to reach a vantage point that's useful enough, but this risk can be heavily reduced with the use of drones for engineering.
However, by using drones to stream video back to teams on the ground, dangerous missions can be avoided unless absolutely necessary. There is no way of calculating how many lives the technology could save in the years to come or how many injuries it will help to prevent.
This notion of using drones for dangerous tasks extends way beyond infrastructure inspection. Applications have emerged that use drones to measure radioactivity in nuclear disaster zones, carry out aerial reconnaissance in war zones and even collect biological samples from dangerous animals.
We couldn't possibly count the number of lives that no longer have to be put at risk thanks to drone technology.
Taking Conservation to New Heights
Aside from saving lives, drones are helping to save the planet, too.
There have been numerous cases of drones being used for environmental and conservational projects. These include tracking emissions from power plants, mapping out woodlands from above to measure deforestation and using drones to detect and deter illegal animal poaching.
One of our favorite uses of drones in the world of conservation is the work of Ocean Alliance. The marine conservation organization has been using drones to capture biological samples from whales (aka whale snot), as well as developing a second flying robot that's capable of landing on the water and recording the whales underwater communications.
With many conservation efforts tight on budget and low on manpower, bringing in drones for research projects could be the way forward.
A Fun Route into STEM
The final reason that drones are important is their potential to inspire. We seem to be constantly hearing about skills shortages in the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, math).
That might be the case for a number of reasons. But one thing is for certain: young people need to be inspired to follow a certain path. At the moment, the world of drones and robotics represents a great way to get kids interested in science and technology.
Whether it's drone racing, flying taxis, aerial photography or drone light shows, these machines and their applications can take our breath away, leave us wanting to know more and inspire the next generation of great minds.
Want to find out more about some of our favorite weird and whacky drone applications? Read our post on the 8 weirdest drone uses.