Unmanned aerial vehicles, commonly called "drones," have drawn fire from privacy advocates for their potential abilities to spy on citizens. But in Kenya, conservationists have found a new, beneficial use for the technology: tracking and protecting endangered species. Kenya’s Ol Pejeta Conservancy recently partnered with Airware, a company that creates autopilot systems for drones, to see if the vehicles could safeguard wildlife from poachers, The Next Web reports: The two parties announced today that the tests were successful at “demonstrating that drones can be a viable tool for wildlife conservation” and they are starting to lay the groundwork for a long-term solution. These drones, equipped with Airware’s autopilot platform and control software, [help] to send real-time digital videos and thermal imaging feeds of animals, as well as poachers, to rangers on the ground. What’s more, the drone only requires minimal training—so a ranger can easily configure a flight plan using a simple mapping interface and launch a flight that is autonomous from launch to recovery. In the case of any poaching-related incident, these drones can also signal for a security team to be deployed. Airware CEO Jonathan Downey acknowledges that right now, the testing stage is just over—and there’s still much development to be done. However, “we’re extremely encouraged and quite proud to be pioneering drones that can preserve some of our planet’s most threatened species,” Downey says. In a country with only 2,800 park rangers total, drones are proving to be an effective and efficient method of protecting wildlife. “Drones are basically the future of conservation,” says James Hardy, the manager of the Mara North Conservancy in Kenya. “A drone can do what 50 rangers can do.”
Danayit Musse is a Spring 2014 editorial intern.