Fly Drones / UAVs for Animal Rights
Drones / UAVs
How can you observe animal abuse in inaccessible or prohibited outdoor areas? Remote low altitude aerial surveillance using drones (also called UAV’s) is a bourgeoning market. So fly a miniature drone which records action on the ground with stills or video. Supply animal protection organisations with footage and document animal abuse for them as evidence for litigation. Abuses include illegal sporting, hunting and poaching, and activities normally out of sight, such as at abattoirs and factory farms. See the work of ShadowView
, a drone specialist animal protection group.
In the jargon, drones are sometimes described with long-winded names like unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), unmanned aerial systems (UAS) and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA), all shortened to important-sounding initials. Some people call a miniature UAV an MAV.
What are Drones/UAV's?
Civilian drones are miniature aircraft piloted by someone on the ground instead of in the aircraft; they are flying robots. Drones are either fixed wing or rotary (that is helicopters). A fixed wing plane could be ideal for surveying large areas over land or sea. Helicopters can speed along too, but in addition they can hover and dodge about a small area to keep a continuous record of what is happening on the ground.
Hitherto, drones have been expensive, large, high-flying and long-range aircraft. Possibly the most well-known drone/UAV is the Predator
, a multi-million dollar reconnaissance machine and rocket firing assassin that the US military use for killing missions.
A Predator. Camera at front under fuselage. Rockets under wings. Photo: WikiCommons.
But advances in camera, flight and battery technology since the 1990's are making possible cheap miniature drones for civilian purposes. A mini-drone may cost you anything from a few hundred dollars to a few thousand dollars. Add to this the cost of cameras and miscellaneous items.
Mini-drones are up to about a metre long (three feet) and weigh around two kilograms (eleven pounds). Flight endurance of drones is about 30 minutes depending on payload weight and you need a clear patch of land for take-off and landing. Helicopter drones are variously multi-rotored: tricopter, quadcopter, hexacopter and octocopter.
Drones come in all shapes and sizes. A civilian quadcopter. Photo: WikiCommons.
A military quadcopter from Aeryon.com (not for civilian use). Note the camera looking at you. Photo: WikiCommons.
An octocopter. Photo: WikiCommons.
Animal protection organisations are employing or considering drones to document poaching of big game in Africa, the killing of seals in Namibia, illegal hunting or baiting of hares, badgers and foxes in Britain, and driftnet fishing in the Mediterranean involving whales, dolphins, sharks, turtles and birds as well as fish. These organisations include the World Wildlife Fund, PETA, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, League Against Cruel Sports, and Ulster SPCA.
It is said that drones/UAV's will transform society in many ways. Just a few uses of civilian drones are:
Flying Your Drone/UAV
- Wildlife conservation: assessing deforestation, distribution and density of populations and species, and poaching (eg illegal trade in horns and ivory).
- Industry: inspecting integrity of structures, such as buildings, bridges, power lines and pipelines.
- Search and rescue: in difficult terrain, for instance mountains and deserts, take images through cloud, rain or fog, day or night using thermal imagery
- Police: examining traffic and crowd size, scanning motor vehicle license plates, patrolling borders.
- Agriculture: monitoring free-ranging livestock, evaluating crops such as for moisture or fertilizer content.
- Archaeology: discovering and mapping new sites for excavation.
- Cinema & television: soaring and hovering shots of actors and scenes.
- Leisure: flying drones, either solo or with a club, as a hobby.
You could be a team of one to fly your drone but it is easier to be a team of two members: the pilot and the camera operator. The pilot remotely controls the aircraft and the camera operator, standing next to him, is responsible for observing and recording pictures. Their jobs are separate because drones are as demanding to fly as full scale aircraft carrying a crew.
The drone pilot must concentrate all the time on keeping his craft in the air. He can set an irregular course using GPS (Geographical Positioning System), controlled via satellites, that the drone will fly by itself automatically. Or he can manipulate a small console or transmitter which includes controls. The controls are for the ailerons (for rolling), elevators (for pitching), rudder (for yawing), and throttle (for speed). Piloting a helicopter, whether a full size one you can sit in or a drone that you can tuck under your arm, takes more patience and skill than controlling a fixed wing aircraft. You have to make the drone helicopter hover, fly upwards and downwards and go forward and backwards.
The camera operator controls where the camera points, the mode the camera is in and what it records. The camera transmits images of everything it sees, displaying them on a laptop monitor for the camera operator to see and save if useful. Fixed wing drones often carry a camera within their fuselage. But an external payload can be attached to the bottom of the airframe of helicopter drones. Cameras should be easily interchangeable, for example, if you wish to use thermal as well as daylight imaging. Selecting the right cameras for the right jobs takes as much consideration as selecting the right drone.
What Kind of Drone/UAV?
For animal rights work, depending on your objective, a helicopter drone may be more suitable than a fixed wing drone. With a helicopter, the camera operator can see what is happening by flying the drone backwards or turning it in its own length. However, if you need to cover a lot of ground quickly, rather than observe a small patch for a while, you might swap your rotary drone for a fixed wing drone.
Some drones, just like the larger people-carrying aircraft, have aerobatics capabilities (like military fighters). These are for hobbyists who want to fly loops and roles with their drones. You will want a model that is a stable platform (more like an airliner) for taking pictures without blurring images.
The more equipment your drone carries (the greater the ‘payload’) and the more windy and adverse weather your operating area is prone to, the heavier your drone should be for strength and stability. Generally, the size of your drone will dictate the camera payload. Flight time shortens as the camera weight increases.
You can design and build your own mini-drone but you will find it a lot easier to buy one complete or as a kit to assemble at home. Assembling a drone as a kit could take you five to twenty or so hours and you should not need any specialist knowledge or tools.
The Law for Drones/UAV's
Flying drones is a serious enterprise. It is regulated by law, so do an online search to find out what the law in your country says about flying commercial drones (whether you fly them for profit or not). In the United States, for example, the Federal Aviation Administration restricts flying drones to below 130 metres (400 feet); this is no handicap for animal rights/welfare work. And the Civil Aviation Authority in Britain reminds you that when flying your drone you must be careful to keep your aircraft a safe distance from people, vehicles and structures, and only fly it in suitable weather.
As more commercial drones take to the air worldwide, so the law of each country is adapting itself and changing to accommodate this new industry. Be careful to stay within the law and keep up to date with it as it changes.
Flying drones seriously, you will need public liability insurance and you might insure cameras separately.
Beware Drone/UAV Pitfalls
A drawback when flying a miniature drone is that usually you cannot let the machine out of your sight, so you have to stay close to it. Presently, this is demanded by law in some countries. Furthermore, you may not know which way it is facing or even whether it is upside down unless you can see it. Monitors are developing, however, to the point where you can track some drones however and wherever they fly and the law may change accordingly. Until then you cannot spy behind far-off hills and other blind spots where you cannot see your drone. If you need to fly over obscured terrain, consider piloting a paramotor and going up in person (see Paramotor Flyer in Chapter 4).
The weather can be another problem. All aircraft, manned or unmanned, are affected by it. Some drones will cope better than others in wind and rain, but even if your drone can speed along at a spanking rate of, say 50 k/hour (30 mph), and the wind is gusting more than this, then it would be rash to fly it. It is likely to crash. You just have to wait for better conditions.
Flying drones is a serious activity. But for a complete beginner, possibly the best way into it, to fathom whether you like it and gain basic experience, is to start at hobby level. A concise outline is Craig Issod's eBook Getting Started with Hobby Quadcopters and Drones
. Search the Web for information and guides on miniature drones (...and UAV's, UAS's, RPA's, and of course MAV's!) and literally work your way upwards.
Useful Drone/UAV Links
: a non-profit drone/UAV group.
: an example of one of the growing number of online multi-rotor specialists.
: an American online drone business.
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