Drones for Good

Matthew Schroyer

Unmanned aircraft systems, more commonly called “drones” in popular media, face tremendous hurdles to being accepted in everyday life. Due to sensationalist news coverage and a gap in technical knowledge amongst the public, the perception of this new technology is overwhelmingly negative. And yet, the difference between the robots used in war, and the ones being used over forest fires, farmlands, and wildlife habitats are worlds apart. This information imbalance has resulted in a surge of American states proposing legislation to limit the use of unmanned aircraft. Some legislation would require police departments to obtain search warrants before deploying unmanned aircraft, which many privacy advocates agree is necessary. However, over-broad legislation could stifle economic and technological innovation, and block this life-saving technology from being used.

The dangers to privacy and safety deserve consideration, but they must be debated alongside many benefits, which include disaster warning and mitigation, city planning, wildlife and resource management, journalism, and STEM education. This talk will include examples of how robotic aircraft have improved STEM education and allowed students to adopt engineering mindsets, and how this new technology can help meet the increasing demands to enhance engineering curriculum at the primary and secondary education levels. This presentation will examine how unmanned aircraft helped end illegal water contamination in a part of Texas, helped minimize exposure to dangerous levels of radiation in Japan, and provided intelligence to mitigate a natural disaster Malaysia. It will detail how UAS have been used to enhance journalism and journalism education, with an emphasis on the “drone” as a device to collect verifiable, geospatial data, instead of relying on hearsay and data from outside entities. Finally, with an eye to the future, this talk also will explore the potential for this technology to be integrated into “smart” cities and augmented reality.