Drones are changing the ground under our feet. Their game-changing use in warfare has been highlighted by Russia’s murderous invasion of Ukraine, but they are also accelerating the clean energy landscape in new and impactful ways. For some insights into both areas, CleanTechnica recently spoke with Cameron Chell, CEO and President of the US company Draganfly.
Draganfly has been providing drones for humanitarian relief in Ukraine, and Chell has visited the country several times. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Drones Level The Playing Field
CleanTechnica: What are your observations about the use of drones by Ukrainians?
Chell: The population in Ukraine has a very different and deep understanding of drones and the role they have played, and will play going forward. There has been nothing more significant in terms of the war theater. It’s like the introduction of tanks in World War I.
Overwhelmingly the outcome of a battlefield is dominated by air power. If you control the air space you control the high ground from a tactical standpoint, and data from satellites and other aircraft.
Up until this time control of airspace has been dominated by countries that can afford to control it. But now literally hundreds if not thousands of drones can be deployed quickly. They are fairly inexpensive, and can dominate over the more expensive systems.
Drones on inexpensive platforms level the playing field. It has been the single most relevant factor that has turned this seemingly overwhelming conflict on its ear and pushed Russia into the situation it’s in.
CleanTechnica: Let’s talk about the impact on humanitarian aid.
Chell: You couldn’t get ambulances into the beseigned cities, but $10,000 drones can deliver supplies. That opened up the notion that drones aren’t just about war, they have tactical uses in other areas, for example search and rescue drones that use thermal imaging to find people in rubble.
Also, for land mine detection, speeding up de-mining gets into how do we restore sanity and normalcy to a population.
For example, all around Kyiv is mined. It’s going to take 20 years to de-mine [based on a calculation of three days of demining for each day of war].
Over 900 bridges also have to be repaired. For mapping, survey work, data collection, and engineering, drones are incredibly fast compared to traditional surveying.
Everybody is a drone pilot in Ukraine. In terms of reconstruction, Ukraine will be an ongoing use case of how drones are used in society.
Drones & Clean Technology
CleanTechnica: Can you describe how Draganfly applies its technology to wind and solar power?
Chell: In North America, Draganfly does a significant amount of wind turbine inspection. In terms of safety, the question is do you want to put a person up there or put a drone up there and include software that collects data.
Nothing collects data better than a drone. You have a way to consistently collect that data including optical, environmental, weather, lidar, and x-ray. Even if you put a human up there they couldn’t collect all that data.
Drones can be used to predict the efficiency of the wind turbine. They can also be deployed on de-icing missions.
The same aspect applies across infrastructure, including power lines and pipeline leak detection. You don’t necessarily need to have people driving trucks around, so it’s incredibly efficient
Our partner in Ukraine has some incredible use cases for pipeline security. They have found places where people have tapped into pipelines in remote areas and have built their own pipes and are sucking out product. These are really sophisticated systems that include back pressure to avoid pressure sensor detection, but drones can look for trench lines and other signs of construction.
The Impact On Solar Power & Agrivoltaics
CleanTechnica has been following the explosive growth of agrivoltaics, which refers to the strategic deployment of ground-mounted solar panels on farmland. There is a considerable overlap with the soil and water conservation goals of regenerative agriculture, and an emerging nexus with precision agriculture and the use of drones in agriculture.
With all that in mind, we asked Chell to elaborate on the use of drones in agrivoltaics and related fields.
Chell noted that inspection and maintenance drones for solar arrays require special engineering, due to the the large size and above-panel heat they generate.
He also described how drones intersect with other aspects of precision agriculture and other evolving agricultural practices.
Chell: Draganfly’s roots are in public safety but we have also been involved in phenotype testing and classification, disease detection, water table analysis, spraying applications, and methane detection around livestock.
We have highly sensitive cameras that do insect counts on the backs of livestock, mostly cattle as well as swine and horses. Depending on the fly count and types of flies, that can provide data on methane levels. There is also some disease detection involved, when more flies occur on one animal rather than another.
Onward & Upward For Drone Technology
You can get all the lowdown on Draganfly drones (stock symbol DPRO) from its website. In particular, check out the “Projects and Concepts” page, where Draganfly introduces its DragonScout shape-shifting, ground-roving drone.
Among other recent news, last December Draganfly announced the launch of its new UAS A.I.R. Space testing facility in Texas, in partnership with the medical and vaccine supply firm Coldchain Delivery Systems (aka Coldchain Technology Services). As described by Dragonfly testing at the site is in currently focused on protocols for detecting mines and other unexploded weaponry, and for the delivery of emergency and humanitarian aid.
“Testing infrastructure available at the site can be extended to a variety of other UAV programs, including infrastructure inspection, surveying and agricultural applications,” Draganfly noted, so keep your eye out for more news about drones on farms, including forestry operations.
Also keep your eye on new developments in the field of anti-drone technology. The disruptive impact of drones on warfare and geopolitics was underscored over the weekend when a series of explosions rocked several locations in Iran, setting off speculation that someone — a state actor or a group of saboteurs — was seeking to cripple the country’s ability to supply weaponized drones to Russia.
Speculation is still running rampant, though reportedly at least one of the attacks has been attributed an Israeli drone operation. if you have any thought on that drop a note in the comment thread.
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Photo: Payload-carrying drones are changing the landscape for warfare, humanitarian aid and more (courtesy of Draganfly via email).
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