Peaceful role for drones explored at TED conference (Update)

June 12, 2013
A Sumatran orangutan in a private zoo on the outskirts of Kandang town in Aceh province on Sumatra island, June 9, 2013. Biologist and science-fiction fan Lian Pin Koh told the TEDGlobal conference about his fleet of environmental drones which have been used to monitor the Orangutan population in the remote Indonesian forest of northern Sumatra.

Unmanned drones, instead of being harbingers of death, should become a vital technological tool in the conservation fight and in delivering vital goods to remote areas, the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh heard Wednesday.

Biologist and science-fiction fan Lian Pin Koh told the conference about his fleet of environmental drones which have been used to monitor the Orangutan population in the remote Indonesian forest of northern Sumatra.

The aircraft have a two-metre wingspan, weigh less than two kilogrammes and cost just $4,000.

Equipped with a mini-computer, a GPS, a compass and an altimeter, they can be easily programmed using Google Maps and are able to fly autonomously for between 40 and 60 minutes, travelling up to 50 kilometres.

Their high resolution cameras can "establish a map of the forest", generate 3D images of the site and "monitor illegal activities harmful to nature," explained the speaker.

Since January, 200 vehicles have been built and are being used by environmental protection groups in Switzerland, Indonesia, Madagascar, Congo, the United States and Greenland.

"We believe that the drones have a huge potential not only to fight crimes against nature but also for studying biodiversity and animal life," said Lian Pin Koh.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a global set of conferences that presents speakers with an 18-minute window to promote their "ideas worth spreading".

A self or remote-guided drone overflies a beach in Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat and Villefranche harbour, southern France on July 30, 2009. Instead of being harbingers of death, drones should become a vital technological tool in the conservation fight and in delivering vital goods to remote areas, the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh heard Wednesday.

Greek businessman, Andreas Raptopoulos, now settled in Silicon Valley, saw another role for drones in delivering essential goods such as drugs and vaccines to otherwise inaccessible areas.

He hopes a network of drones will help the "one billion people" who are completely cut off for part of the year due to impassable roads and conducted a test mission into a Haitian refugee camp in 2012.

But Raptopoulos also envisages drones having "a significant impact" in bottle-necked "megacities", saying they could deliver packages across town for as little as 24 US cents.

But drones today are seen almost exclusively as a weapon of war, a theme explored by science fiction author Daniel Suarez.

"I'm not here to talk about fiction but real robot-killers," he said, citing robot-snipers located on the border of the two Koreas which are able to "automatically identify a human target and shoot him from over a mile away.

"Currently, there are still men in the loop but they are not required technically, it is a choice," he explained, adding that 70 nations are currently on the path to developing similar weapons.

He called for the establishment of an international treaty and a "ban the manufacture of robots-killers."

"There are tonnes of great uses for unmanned drones but we need a framework for robotic weapons as it puts too much power into too few hands," he said.

Suarez also warned that amount of footage currently being produced by surveillance drones was "outstripping the human ability to review it all".

Previous TED speakers include U2 singer Bono, Microsoft mastermind Bill Gates and former US president Bill Clinton.

Explore further: Drone in action for the rainforest

Related Stories

Drone in action for the rainforest

February 28, 2012

Vast areas of Indonesia’s rainforests are being destroyed by logging and conversion to oil palm plantations. In this Southeast Asian country, deforestation has reached alarming levels.

Friend or foe? Civilian drones stir debate

March 18, 2013

Drones: A flying technological marvel that could save lives or a sinister robot spy which edges the United States ever closer towards becoming a surveillance society?

Drones may violate international law

May 24, 2013

(Phys.org) —As President Obama gives a speech on national security—including defending U.S. use of drones to combat terrorism—Leila Sadat, JD, international law expert and professor of law at Washington University in ...

TED conference sets stage for a week of bright ideas

June 10, 2013

A former Greek prime minster, a specialist in the sex lives of animals and a "gentleman thief" are among the eclectic set of speakers spreading cutting-edge ideas at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh this week.

Smartphones, drones, to save lives in Malawi

June 11, 2013

A mobile phone equipped to measure heart rate, body temperature and breathing, with a digital medical manual for health care staff. Unmanned drones that can drop medicine and collect blood samples in remote areas. Researchers ...

Recommended for you

Power grid forecasting tool reduces costly errors

July 30, 2015

Accurately forecasting future electricity needs is tricky, with sudden weather changes and other variables impacting projections minute by minute. Errors can have grave repercussions, from blackouts to high market costs. ...

Microsoft describes hard-to-mimic authentication gesture

August 1, 2015

Photos. Messages. Bank account codes. And so much more—sit on a person's mobile device, and the question is, how to secure them without having to depend on lengthy password codes of letters and numbers. Vendors promoting ...

Netherlands bank customers can get vocal on payments

August 1, 2015

Are some people fed up with remembering and using passwords and PINs to make it though the day? Those who have had enough would prefer to do without them. For mobile tasks that involve banking, though, it is obvious that ...

2 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Doug_Huffman
1 / 5 (1) Jun 12, 2013
TED has become PBS-like joke, a waste of time and money. One aww-shoot wipes out a thousand atta-boys and there are a whole lot more than just one pathetic waste of time. Al Gore???
cantdrive85
1.7 / 5 (3) Jun 13, 2013
And in the meantime, the White House is devising ways to kill Snowden using those very same drones...

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.