Drones are increasingly making their way into remote locations, violent storms and hazardous habitats for scientific purposes. The technology is so popular that the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is stepping in with new rules governing how drones are operated for research uses, among others. The rules, which take effect on 29 August, include limitations such as daylight-only operations, weight specifications and line-of-sight restrictions.
It’s not necessarily bad news for scientists, though. “The FAA makes things much simpler for us,” says Peter Traykovski, an engineer at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts. ”You don’t need to be a certified pilot — just take an exam of aeronautical knowledge.”
The rules shouldn’t stifle the creative ways in which researchers employ drones. So in that spirit of imagination, Nature takes a look at some of the more unusual ways in which scientists employ these mechanical minions.
Dave Clague at the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute in Moss Landing, California, uses a torpedo-shaped unmanned underwater vehicle (pictured) to map the sea floor and study underwater volcanoes. Outfitted with sonar and navigation equipment, the drone is programmed to travel 50 metres above the ocean floor. Clague uses the data it gathers to make high-resolution maps of mid-ocean ridges and other features off the Pacific coast of the United States and Mexico. It’s an underwater version of taking aerial photographs of volcanoes on land, says Clague. The technology allows scientists to cover large areas of the sea floor that are not easily mapped by other means.
Craig Chandler/Univ. of Nebraska
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