A drone, in a technological context, is an unmanned aircraft or a flying robot, formally known as unmanned aerial vehicles.
Drones come in small sizes—including toys that some men and boys are excited to play with—to relatively big flying machines for more serious work.
Depending on how advanced a drone is, a certain amount of applications are built in, such as a GPS chip, various sensors and infrared systems, measuring tools and, most commonly, a camera.
Drones have most often been associated with the military but they are also used for search and rescue, surveillance, traffic monitoring, weather monitoring and firefighting, among other things.
In Kenya, organisations like the Ol Pejeta Wildlife Conservancy and the Kenya Wildlife Service have reportedly expressed the need to use drones to conduct aerial surveillance and thwart poaching.
Personal drones are also becoming increasingly popular, often for drone-based photography. High profile events such as weddings have used drones equipped with cameras and video recorders to capture aerial pictures of the event.
In many countries, drones are part of the hardware in journalism as they can often access locations that would be impossible or too risky for a human to get to.
Some can stay up for nearly 20 hours at a time, hovering over an area and sending back real-time imagery of activities on the ground—an important tool for security surveillance or monitoring disasters such as floods.
Photographs and videos taken by use of drones can be used in the same ways as traditional aerial imagery, but they are cheaper and faster to collect than visuals from a manned aircraft or from a satellite—and can quite easily be processed into useful, geographically accurate maps. Due to their ability to take multi-angle and high resolution pictures, drones can also be used to create 3D models.
The development sector is also starting to utilize drone technology, for uses ranging from quick post-disaster mapping and documenting environmental abuses.
While the use of development drones remains decidedly novel, these devices are likely to become more and more common in the near future.
For example, the World Health Organization is using drones to transport medical supplies such as vaccinations to rural areas in some countries, thereby increasing access to medical services.
Drones are a potential technology to deliver national examinations or ballot boxes to inaccessible areas due to floods or other barriers. They can be equipment to track cattle rustling in the rugged and hostile terrains of the North Rift.
Drones have a role to play in tackling illegal logging and deforestation where some people move into national forests in the dead of night and harvest timber while the world sleeps.
Given the uncertain nature of our political processes leading to the General Election, drones can help monitor political activities, including the voting process, and provide evidence for some nasty events that traditionally occur around that season.
Drones are like surveillance cameras—they don’t stop crime but they deter criminals because they know they are under watch.
Drone operators should find ways to alert people in the areas they want to operate before a flight takes place as people and communities are usually cagy about their privacy being invaded.
Locally, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority, which regulates flying aircraft, has capped the maximum height the drones can fly at 400 feet above the ground. Those who have a need to fly their drones higher would need to seek clearance from the Kenya Defence Forces.
In the region, Rwanda has been at the forefront of drone technology use, mainly for crop monitoring; search and rescue; delivery of emergency supplies; research and development and educational and recreational purposes. Look out for a flying object above your skies; it could be a drone at work.
Sam Wambugu is an informatics specialist; [email protected]; @samwambugu2.