AUTONOMOUS TECHNOLOGY DOMAINS

Uses for unmanned Aircraft

Unmanned aircraft systems, commonly known as drones, are being used by many industries from agriculture to zoology. The use of drones has led to increased safety, decreased costs and less impact on wildlife and their habitats. Here are some of the ways they are being used:

PRECISION AGRICULTURE

Precision agriculture is a growing trend around the world. Data collected by UAS can be used to determine plant and soil health using vegetative indices. These indices are essentially calculations based on the reflected light wavelength from a plant using a special camera. These cameras may focus on single wavelength or be multispectral, meaning they can obtain data on multiple wavelengths at once. This information can be used by an agronomist to put a plan in place that leads to the best yields from a specific field. Newer farming equipment can use this plan to automatically apply fertilizers or pesticides where it can do the most good, saving farmers money and reducing the environmental impact.

MEDICAL TRANSPORT

Drones are being used around the world to increase the reach of medical professional and decrease delays. Hard to reach areas are getting deliveries of blood and medicines. Transplant organs are moving from one destination to another without encountering traffic issues or the costs associated with a manned helicopter and labs are receiving samples faster than ever, speeding the time between draws and diagnosis. There is even an AED equipped drone that can rapidly be flown to the scene of an emergency.

CONSERVATION

Conservation is another area where drones have made significant contributions. Targeted animals can be tracked and studied while minimizing human contact. Forests and waterways can be mapped, monitored and compared over time, particularly before and after a significant event such as a forest fire or flood. Drones are proving to be extremely beneficial in places where humans cannot easily or safely reach, or where we are unable to perform functions in a timely manner. A botanist recently discovered a plant in Hawaii, growing in an inaccessible area, that was thought to have been extinct.

INSPECTION

These days, drone inspections are being performed in almost every industry that requires visual inspections as part of its maintenance procedures. Industrial inspections, routine or otherwise, mostly involve the use of ladders, ropes and rigs to scale large machinery and towers to oversee processes. Not only is the inspection process risky for inspectors, the process requires machinery to be shut down, resulting in significant financial implications. The use of drones for inspection offers inspectors a professional tool for viewing difficult-to-access areas, giving them a safer, more cost-efficient way of gaining greater insight into operation-critical processes. In many instances, a drone inspection will be a visual inspection, with the drone's camera acting as the inspector's eyes. The use of drones for inspection reduces risks, increases efficiency and produces a meticulous record of an asset over time.

SEARCH AND RESCUE

Drones are being used not only to improve safety and prevent future disasters, but on several occasions, they’ve been instrumental in savings lives. When a disaster or incident threatens lives and livelihoods, emergency responders need information and real-time imagery to make better decisions and save time. UAVs can provide situational awareness over a large area quickly, reducing the time and number of searchers required to locate and rescue an injured or lost person, greatly reducing the cost and risk of search and rescue missions. Drones have been vital in locating survivors during natural disasters by using thermal imaging to pinpoint the locations of people in need of rescue or to survey flooded neighborhoods, recommend resource deployments, monitor levees, access damage to bridges, roads and power lines.

DISEASE CONTROL

With the outbreak of the Corona Virus, drones have been used in a few novel ways. Agricultural spraying drones have been adapted to spray disinfectant in public areas 50 times faster than other methods. Other drones have been fitted with loudspeakers and thermal cameras. The loudspeakers allow health officials to disseminate information and the thermal cameras are being used to detect the body temperature of people, in an effort to identify new cases before they spread. All of this can be done while keeping the number of health officials, within the quarantine zone, to a minimum. This decreases the chances of a doctor or other healthcare worker from contracting the disease, allowing them to treat more people.

Autonomous Land Uses

Today, every vehicle manufacture has some version of autonomous technology implemented. From the simplest systems that use ultrasonic distance sensors to detect and alert the driver that they are about to backup into a tree; to vehicles that use light sensors, ultrasonic sensors, cameras, LIDAR, radar, GPS, live traffic data, and vehicle-to-vehicle data transferring to fully drive, accelerate, and brake a vehicle down an interstate or through inner-city congested traffic without human interaction. Here are some of the ways autonomous technology is being used:

PRECISION AGRICULTURE

Autonomous tractors have been in development since the idea of precision agriculture came about in the 1980s. In attempt to save fuel and become more efficient, growers began using GPS technologies to guide their tractors across fields. As new technologies made wireless communications easier and more reliable, these first steps toward self-driving tractors laid the groundwork for machinery that is widely used in the large-scale farming industry. Self-driving tractors automatic planting systems have exceptional accuracy, resulting in seed conservation and a substantially improved return on investment for growers. The tractors’ sensors collect soil conditions, offering improved maintenance of already-planted crops and generate data before and after harvest. Self-driving tractors also reduce the workload and stress on farmers, providing assistance for driving and managing a wide range of tasks on the farm.

TRANSPORTATION

In a world where companies need to move more and more cargo every day, autonomous trucking allows companies to move more freight with the same number or fewer drivers. Autonomous trucks can more easily travel during off-peak hours, helping to reduce traffic congestion. Self-driving trucks provide a smaller ecological footprint by cutting down on carbon emissions due to optimized shifting of gears, less braking, and acceleration. In the trucking industry, autonomous vehicle technology will be a part of the solution to keeping freight on-time, safe, and affordable by solving some of the challenges with 100% human operation.

RIDESHARE

Autonomous vehicles will be able to assist underserved markets, such as elderly, those with disabilities and residents of areas where public transit is not widely available. Combining ridesharing and autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion and air pollution due to less vehicles being on the road. The gains of widely adopted autonomous vehicles in major urban areas would shift major city centers from being focused on where to park our vehicles to having an abundance of high value real estate that could be transformed into affordable housing, public parks and office space.

MINING

The mining industry is an early adopter of fully autonomous vehicles and machinery, including digging machines, driverless trucks and inspection robots. Mining companies are highly sensitive to operating costs, and automation is one lever to improve margins. The most obvious benefit of utilizing various levels of autonomous technology in the mining industry is safety. Whether it be a dangerous location up in the mountains or deep underground where air quality is poor, getting the operators out of the equipment and in a control room is a huge advantage. Utilizing technology stems like Lidar, radar, GPS, and video monitoring systems, onboard computers are able to navigate the massive mining vehicles safely and efficiently through mining job sites, allowing mining companies to be more efficient.

Unmanned Vessels and Submarines

Unmanned maritime systems (UMS) are typically categorized as remotely operate vehicles (ROVs), Unmanned surface vehicles (USVs) and unmanned undersea vehicles (UUVs). Collectively these are being used by many industries from aquaculture to energy and defense. The use of UMS has led to increased safety, decreased costs, and in some cases operations that are otherwise impossible. Here are some of the ways they are being used:

INSPECTION

Inspection of undersea structures such as fish farms, piers, ship hulls, oil rigs, and wind turbines is a key mission for UMS. As tethered ROVs with operators in direct control or as UUVs with supervisors overseeing work, these tools provide important data about human infrastructure undersea. ROVs or UUVs can be operated at extreme depths and can remain underwater for long periods of time and in harsh conditions that would hamper general diving operations. Larger ROVs are used for many difficult tasks in the offshore oil and gas and offshore wind industries while smaller ROVs are used in a wide range of industries including aquaculture and wastewater treatment inspection.

SURVEYS

Survey of ports and harbors is an important mission for UMS. Both routine surveys and responses to emergency events such as hurricanes are important uses for UMS that help ensure safety of navigation for cargo and passengers. Underwater surveys are an indispensable part of the data collection process used during maritime infrastructure works. The use of an ROV system for surveying can dramatically reduce inspection costs while eliminating the risks associated with the use of divers to complete the task.

NAVAL

The US Navy is a significant user of UMS. They support key oceanographic assessments for environmental modeling as well as roles such as mine countermeasures and rapid environmental assessment. Over the next decade sailors should expect to use the underwater robots to bring sonar arrays and mines to the seabed, launch torpedoes or become torpedoes themselves to destroy enemy warships. UUVs of all sizes will be used to fill the gaps in future missions; missions that are too dangerous to put men on or missions that are too mundane and routine, but important, like monitoring.

CONSERVATION

Conservation is another area where UMS make significant contributions. Marine animals can be tracked and studied while minimizing human contact. Marine protected areas (MPAs) can be monitored for both environmental concerns and prohibited human activity. UUVs have been used to identify spawning sites for grouper and snapper in the Caribbean to prevent overfishing and to track location changes in species along California's coast which are helping to reveal impacts from changes in sea temperature, level and acidity.
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