10 Surprising Examples of Drones at Work

X-56A in flight

Drones might be most commonly associated with security and public safety missions—but they’re also helping with everything from distance learning to scientific research. Read on for our Unmanned Systems team's top ten list of the most surprising examples of drones at work:

1.       Pest control – Three professors at the Virginia Military Institute created a tick-hunting robot that emits carbon dioxide to mimic human breath, which lures the real blood-sucking pest to its death.  Recent tests have proved success, and the VMI team is hoping to offer the robot on the commercial market.

2.       Extreme photography – World-class mountaineer David Lama and his climbing partner Peter Ortner recently used a remote-control helicopter to shoot breathtaking images of the Karakoram Mountains.  Outdoor clothing and equipment companies Mammut and Dedicam lead the joint effort.

3.       Seafood watchdog – Puget Sound seafood uses a drone to protect consumers from food poisoning. The environmental sample processor, or ESP, retrieves, analyses, and provides reports on water quality, indicating any possible contamination. Those reports get sent to Northwest Fisheries Science Center, which monitors the health of shellfish in the region.

4.    Breaking the flutter barrier –Flutter is a wing gyration that occurs during normal flight, but uncontrolled, flutter can cause instability and catastrophic structural failure. Lockheed Martin’s experimental aircraft X-56A is a flying testbed for flutter-suppression technologies. The data generated from the X-56A flights will eventually lead to the design of lighter weight, more efficient wing structures for drones. And solving the mysteries of flutter will lead to safer flight for all aircraft.

X-56A: Breaking the Flutter Barrier

The X-56A is an unmanned technology demonstrator designed to test active flutter suppression and gust load alleviation incorporating advanced control technology.

5.       Sports photography – FOX Sports recently used an “octocopter” during the 52nd Rip Curl Pro surfing competition.  Journalists praised the drones for providing high-definition footage at an angle and proximity humans cannot possibly achieve in dangerous wave conditions.

6.       Shark watch – An Australian beach town is considering using drones to patrol and protect its shores from dangerous sharks. The drone would provide a potentially more accurate alternative to the helicopters currently on patrol.

7.       The buddy system – “Robob,” a mobile robot equipped with video conferencing capabilities, allows a young boy to attend summer camp virtually. Thanks to the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Anybots, the boy is able to interact with his fellow campers in real-time.

8.       Wildlife study – The U.S. Geological Survey Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) Project Office teamed with the University of Idaho, Washington State University, the Bureau of Land Management, and Idaho Fish and Game to determine habitat quality for two threatened species, the pygmy rabbit and sage grouse.  The remote operations of the drones gave researchers a bird’s eye view of the animals’ habitat without disturbing them.

9.       Window to the sea – Lockheed Martin’s autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) Marlin generates three dimensional, geo-referenced models of underwater platforms and the surrounding seabed, creating an accurate view of the area. The 3-D models allow oil and gas companies to inspect their rigs and pipelines quickly and safely.

10.   Food delivery: The TacoCopter may not sound real, but the food-delivery drone is currently being tested and may be bringing hot tacos to your door one day very soon. The possibilities for drone food delivery are endless – sushi, pizza, French fries… FAA regulations prevent the idea from becoming an immediate reality, but with changes on the horizon, you could be enjoying Chinese food via drone as early as 2015.

Learn more about Lockheed Martin’s unmanned systems.

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