Softer side of drones

Coming soon to a neighbourhood near you if you live in Japan, that is are private security drones, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) one can rent to fight crime or follow spouses around. It would be a much more mundane use of UAVs than has been usual so far, with drones figuring in dramatic and controversial attacks targeting terrorists in Pakistan or in Yemen. These drones are primarily for surveillance, and will be leased out to clients beginning 2014. The video cameras mounted on drones normally have a wider field of vision than regular cameras, which means they are likely to be more effective than regular CCTV.

This is the latest in a series of uses for drones that are less destructive. It could be only a matter of time before drones appear more frequently within the United States, which regulates drone use via permits, for purposes as varied as crop dusting and police work. Indeed, earlier this year, an MIT graduate came up with a concept of a Tacocopter, a drone that would deliver fast food via air, cutting out the pesky business of traffic jams. Taco-lovers could even have windowside delivery. Drones could be the biggest advance in home delivery after the "30 minutes or less" guarantee.

Drones can be put to noble uses, like disaster relief and search and rescue operations, or wildlife conservation. Google and the World Wildlife Fund, for instance, collaborating to run conservation programmes at four sites in Africa and Asia, have bought drones to assist their efforts. With poaching on the rise, more aggressive monitoring in parks and forests can help deter poachers. Because the drones used here are small, light and maneouvrable, they can collect and send data back to law-enforcement units, who then intervene if required.

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