Class blog for sharing and commenting on current events in biology.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

A Drone’s-Eye View of Nature -- Gregory Mo

Gregory Mo                                                                                                                5/8/13
Current Event Biology

Farrell, Sean Patrick. "Drones Offer a Safer, Clearer Look at the Natural World." The New York Times. The New York Times, 07 May 2013. Web. 08 May 2013. <>.

            Who would have thought that decommissioned military equipment could help scientists study nature and bird patterns? This is definitely not something people think about often, but people will definitely start hearing about this in the news. Recently, military drone technology, which are basically unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) and are sent into the sky by the military to view surrounding areas, are now being used by scientists. This all started when early “Raven” systems, costing $250,000 each were going to be destroyed as they were decommissioned but were given to scientists for research and outfitted with cameras, temperature monitors and other gauges. These Raven systems have allowed biologists to study species counts. Drones can fly hundreds of feet in the air and can fly very close to animals, sometimes even without scaring the animal. This is seen by some biologists as an alternative to the way it has been done for years in manned helicopters and planes. These very small drone planes can be deployed in the air and take thousands of very good pictures of animals and the geography of the area. The drones have been even used to get images of seals and sea lions that would go under water if a large helicopter flew over them but the drone was able to get these images. The drone did scare some crane birds however, perhaps because they thought it was a larger predator, but drones also have a thermal imaging camera allowing biologists to take pictures from the distance and get very good counts. In addition to all of these benefits of the drones though, there are negatives. Getting the clearance to fly drones has been somewhat difficult by these regulations are improving as the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) approved for the bird study mentioned earlier. The FAA is now currently working on guidelines that will allow private commercial drones to fly in the airspace in 2015 but until then the federal government and other institutions control the rights to scientific drone flights. Some scientists see drones as safer to helicopters which can crash and also as cheaper while also getting pictures which can be saved and are clear in image. Although drones have short battery lives but they can fly during not so ideal weather.
            This article is very important to society as drones may very well start replacing more than just helicopters in biologic studies. Soon drones might replace weather vaines and weather stations, they could even start to be the next security cameras, flying down the streets of cities taking images. It is also important because drones, although seemingly mostly for military usage now have a civilian purpose and could even save lives if drones can fly over the oceans and see crashed boats or what not. We are entering the field of drone science for non military usage which can lead to endless possibilities. I was interested in this article and chose it because you do not hear much about drones and using machines where men have been used and drones for biology. Much sooner than you might think, we might be looking up in the sky and seeing drones flying around.
            This article was well written but I feel like the article talks too much about the scientists behind this biologic drone usage. Although their contribution is very important and they deserve credit I would like to hear more about the drones and possibly their usage in the future as opposed to hearing about Mr. Grooves and Mr. Walker, although as I said their contribution to this field is very significant. I also felt that hopes for drones in the future was not supported as much, as this article still left me interested wondering how we might see drones for scientific usage in the future. Otherwise this article was very good and got me interested in this new topic of drones and their usage to science.


  1. Ariel Sachtjen

    I found this article very interesting. I had never heard of a drone until reading Greg’s article. I thought Greg’s introduction was very attention grabbing. Reading his current event made me want to continue reading the article. I also thought connecting it to the military aspect was very good. I found it very interesting that scientists are able to use the drones to count and study species. I also thought it was neat how drones can fly hundreds of feet and can fly closely to animals without scaring them. I would think that drones would be very loud and could scare animals. I thought this review was very interesting. I thought Greg could have gone more in depth of how the article is important in society.

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  3. The first thing I enjoyed about Greg's response came right off the bat. He started with a question that captured his reader's attention. This technique had me engaged throughout the time I was reading Greg's response. Second, Greg's topic was by far the most interesting I have seen falling under the category of science in a while. My opinion might be slightly biased as I was already very interested in the military and various weapons before reading this response. None the less, the topic was intriguing. I also enjoyed Greg's transition into explaining the article and then talking about how it relates to current society. The second paragraph, in which connections to current life are made, was overall brilliantly written.
    I found it interesting that a drone, which I would think of as a weapon, is able to be used in a more biological sense in that it can identify, count, and study species. Second to this, and more specifically I found it incredible that these drones could actually track animals underwater! Mind blowing, absolutely absurd where we have come with modern science.
    The response was excellent, but the third paragraph needed work. Greg did not comment enough on what he thought contradicted or did not coincide with the article. But overall and excellent response matched with a wonderfully interesting article.

  4. I liked how your response started with a question. It caught my attention and caused me to read more. Also, I thought your topic was interesting. It’s seems strange and slightly ironic to me that scientists are using unmanned machines to study life, but it seems effective. You would think drones could only be used for war, but it seems drones have infinite possibility in other fields as well. Thirdly, you did a good job providing examples of what drones could do and what you think drones could help with in society, like when you mentioned they could replace security cameras. One thing that surprised me was that the drones could get so close to the animals without scaring them or alerting them. Another thing I found interesting was that no one has ever realized a drone’s usefulness in science. All in all I think you did a good job, but you mention two scientists at the end briefly without really talking about them and it wasn’t clear to me who they were or what they did. Overall you did a good job though.

  5. I was really impressed with how Greg began his report with a question. It really grabbed my attention and kept with me throughout the essay. Second, I really enjoyed Greg’s topic and thought it was really interesting. It seems really interesting to me how the scientists use these unnamed drones to learn more about life and different species. Third, I thought Greg kept a good tone throughout his essay and kept me into it.
    I was impressed to learn that scientists actually used these unnamed drones to study species and learn more about them including discovering new ones. I was also impressed to find out that these drones could fly hundreds of feet into the air and fly right next to an animal without disturbing its habitat and daily life.
    I thought Greg did a great job with his essay. The only thing I thought he could have done is go into more detail in some of the paragraphs.