Drones have ‘critical role’ to play in tackling climate change

The development and deployment of technology like drones has a “critical role” to play in the global response to climate change, an expert has said.

To mitigate against climate change or poaching and cover large areas of landmass, drones – or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – need to be airborne for a long period of time.

It is currently difficult to track and evaluate the impact of environmental degradation from climate change and natural disasters, and poaching in difficult to reach and hostile environments.

While UAVs collect important data from these remote regions, their practicality has been restricted by their efficiency and battery life.

Longer-range UAVs exist but they can be too expensive to deploy on a larger scale.

Now, a team of students at the University of Southampton is working to improve the efficiency and battery life of drones.

Technology entrepreneur Ewan Kirk has joined forces with his former university to establish the Turner-Kirk UAV Research Support Programme.

Improved efficiency and battery life will mean drones can be deployed to monitor climate degradation in those difficult to reach and hostile environments.

Dr Kirk, director of the Turner-Kirk Charitable Trust, told the PA news agency: “Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest issue facing us all and as we get to grips with tackling this issue, I fundamentally believe the development and deployment of technology – including UAVs – has a critical role in our global response.

“In the fight against poaching, UAVs can be an incredibly valuable resource to authorities.

“For example, at over 7,000 square miles the Kruger National Park in Africa is almost the same size as Wales and poaching can happen anywhere and at any time of the day or night.

“To effectively patrol this area, anti-poaching agencies need UAVs with long flight times and they need them to be cheap enough that they can have many of them flying simultaneously.”

He added he would like UAVs to be an essential tool at the fingertips of of those environment agencies already helping in the fight against climate change.

“They will help them gather data much more quickly and fundamentally I believe technology enables world-leading experts to do their jobs even better,” Dr Kirk explained.

He concluded: “In the area of conservation, continuous monitoring of endangered animals by UAVs will enable authorities to identify potential threats and increase the response times for wardens to intercept and prevent any illegal activity.

“Using UAVs to effectively monitor vegetation and land over large areas will help scientists and researchers to create large data sets helping them understand how climate change is affecting some of the world’s most critical resources.”

The programme follows a £15,000 donation from Dr Kirk and Dr Patricia Turner and will fund three groups of fourth-year students in the university’s engineering department.

They will look at  developing new ways to adapt existing drones on an inexpensive basis as well as studying novel aircraft configurations designed to minimise the energy requirements.

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