Drones don’t have the greatest reputation, thanks to the fact that they’ve mostly been used for spy missions and as remote killing machines. But a team at Ideo.org thinks that the technology—which they prefer to call "intelligent flying robots"—could also help solve the world’s biggest health challenges.
Some of the ideas they suggest in this video, like delivering medicine in places that are hard to reach by roads, have already been tested in some areas and may be close to becoming reality. Others, like real-time imaging, have been used by industries like mining and agriculture, and could easily be adapted to serve the greater good. In a disaster, a glider could quickly fly over impassable roads, making a map with photos of survivors.
In remote areas, a drone floating high in the air could improve connections to the outside world, so a village nurse could talk to doctors at a distant hospital. Local entrepreneurs might begin to rent out drones to do everything from delivering goods to testing water and monitoring crops.
"In the next year or two, we’ll see a handful of exciting small-scale drone programs, like post-disaster health communications and on-demand vaccine delivery," says Danny Alexander, a senior designer for Ideo.org. "The technology—and the regulations that govern them—need a lot more development, though, so we won't be seeing their full potential until closer to 2020."
The possibilities go far beyond health care—some organizations are already using drones to help protect wildlife, and others have suggested using drones for everything from protecting cyclists to harvesting crops.
As more drones are used to help people, their image may slowly begin to change.
"Drones look like agents of war and behave like pesky insects—they're in desperate need of design," Alexander says. "By reconsidering the way they look and interact with people we'll be able to alleviate some fear, but the big shift in perception will come when drones are more broadly used for good."