Let’s learn about flying drones for science

Airborne robots help scientists study marine mammals, monitor crops and more 

a drone flies over a field of soybeans at sunset

Drones could help farmers by scouting fields for thirsty crops or pollutants, or delivering medicine to sick plants.

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Drones are pretty versatile tools. These flying robots have delivered packages and fought fires. They conduct surveillance and shoot movies. And in recent years, they have gathered data for a wide range of scientific efforts.

Studying and protecting wildlife are some of the most popular scientific uses for drones. Researchers have flown drones over oceans to measure how much whales eat, record what they sound like and inspect how they breathe. Other drones have helped keep tabs on endangered monkeys and orangutans. Still others have kept an eye out for poachers that might hurt rhinos or protected birds from airplanes.

Other scientists aim to use drones to improve agriculture. Sensor-toting drones could fly over fields to scout for thirsty plants or scan for pollutants. They could even distribute medicine to diseased crops from the air.

The list of potential uses for drones goes on. They can collect air samples from forest fires to study the microbes inside the smoke. They can also 3-D print structures that could one day be built on other planets. If you could fly a drone anywhere in the world, what would you use it to study? The sky is literally the limit!

Want to know more? We’ve got some stories to get you started:

Meet robots on a mission to help birds A new generation of bird-like robots is helping people better understand and protect the wild animals that inspired them. (11/2/2023) Readability: 7.3

These flying robots protect endangered wildlife Flying drones make conservation work much easier. Around the world, drones and artificial intelligence help scientists study or protect endangered animals. (3/10/2022) Readability: 7.1

Wildfire smoke seeds the air with potentially dangerous microbes Drones are helping researchers collect air samples from forest fire smoke. (9/2/2021) Readability: 7.9

In 2011, Lian Pin Koh and Serge Wich flew one of the world’s first conservation drones over Sumatra, an island in Indonesia. They saw how people used the land and an orangutan nest in the top of a tree.

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Want to build your own drone? Check out this how-to guide from Science Buddies!

Maria Temming is the Assistant Managing Editor at Science News Explores. She has bachelor's degrees in physics and English, and a master's in science writing.

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