January 27, 2015

A forest saved by drones

Economy

Drones – unpiloted or remotely piloted aerial vehicles – don’t seem to have a great reputation these days. However, I’d like to tell you about how they can be used as a positive tool, able even to save a tropical forest. In fact, credit must be given to Digital Democracy, an organisation focused on teaching struggling communities located in the planet’s most difficult areas how to make the most of digital technology. In Guyana, Digital Democracy has taught Wapichana natives first how to build a drone, then how to operate it efficiently and use it to trace a map of their land in order to meticulously monitor the deforestation process affecting the area.

For Wapichana natives it has been physically impossible to keep track of their million-acres territory: a land rich in rainforests often target of illegal logging. With the use of drones, though, things have begun to change. These machines can be linked to a camera – in this case provided by GoPro – which can be used to obtain bird’s-eye view images of the whole area. Then, thanks to a free software, the photos can be processed and turned into a 3D geographic map clearly highlighting the changes the land has gone through over time.

Does it seem complicated to you? I guarantee it’s not. Gregor MacLennan – DD’s program director – has explained it all in details on Digital Democracy’s blog: from how they managed to build a drone from scratch and repair it using salvaged materials, to what kind of software did they use (strictly open source to minimise spending). MacLennan’s story seems to tell us just one thing: nothing is impossible if you want it enough.

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