Welcome to 2017: the year of the drone. From capturing aerial photos to delivering your online purchases, drones are now being used on a daily basis, sometimes without you even knowing.
In fact, it might not be long until a drone could end up saving your life.
Google was recently awarded a patent for a device that summons a drone loaded with medical cargo, such as a defibrillator, blood or vital medicines.
Not only are drones changing our day-to-day life, but they are the future of healthcare.
Making a better world
In New Zealand, drones are already delivering pizzas to hungry customers and in the UK, they're sending parcels to Amazon internet shoppers, but drones aren't limited to simple distribution.
Drones are also being used to create safer beaches. In a recent trial on the Australian coast, a drone monitored shark activity, rips and other hazards. While, on the land, farmers are using them as an alternative to satelite images and aircraft flyovers to gather information on crop health.
Surveillance drones now spot elephant and rhino poachers in Africa, and measure the impact of climate change on reefs and wildlife communities.
Drones are already helping in emergency healthcare – starting with blood delivery. An Australian consortium recently launched the Angel Drone project, which plans to use medi-drones to deliver blood to remote communities. If the trial is successful, other life-saving cargo such as organs and anti-venom medicine may be next.
Medical drones are cheaper than other forms of air transport and faster than road vehicles, making them suitable in natural disaster zones, for ships offshore and for urban areas where there are traffic jams. Organisations such as SURF Life are currently using drones for surveillance and rescue operations.
However, while these drones have the potential to save thousands of lives, they also face technical challenges, like temperature control and lift capacity. Angel Drone, for example, has developed an incubator to keep blood at the right temperature and conditions.
To minimise the chance of accident or collision, operators also need to observe local drone regulations. In Australia, commercial drones require a Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) Controller's Certificate, and special permission to fly above 400 feet.
Drones of the future
The drone industry is set to boom over the next decade as the technology becomes cheaper, safer and more reliable. Some predict that drones, not driverless cars, are the future of mass transportation – mainly because they don't have to slow down for pedestrians, traffic lights and other on-ground obstacles!
We're likely to see an explosion in niche drones that cater for specific needs. Ambulance drones that ferry patients from dense urban areas and other places helicopters can't easily access aren't far off. Drone restaurant waiters are ready to get to work in Singapore and infra-red camera drones will detect leaks in fuel pipelines.
The uses for drones seem limitless – and future versions may not only help save lives, but the planet too.