Drones help clean up trash from the banks of waterways

Drones help clean up trash from the banks of waterways

“By taking a drone up we knew that we could cover more space, more quickly with fewer people,” an expert says.

Drones have been deployed for a variety of environmental causes from protecting crops to keeping track of endangered animals.

But drones can do even more.

In the San Francisco area, in the state of California in the United States, a team of scientists has started using drones for trash detection: namely, to find plastic waste littering the banks of local waterways.

This can be done with relative ease by help of a drone, which captures images from the air so that they can then be analyzed  by a specially designed software, which looks for signs of plastic waste and other litter alongside creeks and streams.

The pieces of trash are then collected from the identified spots before they can get into the water and float away towards the ocean. The system, according to its originators, is far more effective than having teams of people stroll painstakingly along the waterways once in a while looking for pieces of trash.

“We thought, ‘[Using people] is very old-school. Is there anything we can do to demonstrate what’s possible by leveraging new technologies?’” Tony Hale, director of the San Francisco Estuary Initiative project, told DroneLife, an online publication.

“By taking a drone up we knew that we could cover more space, more quickly with fewer people, which would translate into savings of time and money,” Hale explains.

Better yet: the use of a drone allows for repeat inspections of the same sites, which would be cumbersome and time-consuming with human helpers. “[I]nstead of being able to monitor a given site once a year, or at most twice a year, you can go out lot more often to get a denser picture of what’s happening,” Hale notes.

A single flight by a drone can cover a relatively large area as the machine takes images from some 30m up in the air, which is “high enough to remain above the tree line, but close enough to the ground to obtain sharp and easily analyzable photographic images.”

Elsewhere around the planet other scientists and environmentalists, too, have been employing drones to collect trash littering beaches; to map landfills and calculate their remaining capacity; and to keep an eye on factories that break laws by releasing industrial waste illegally into the environment, to name just a few applications.

In years to come, as drone technologies continue to develop, unmanned aerial vehicles will surely have an ever wider range of applications for the protection of the environment.

This story first appeared on Sustainability Times

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