Drones Being Used for Social Impact

January 16, 2017 by Chantelle Dubois

Drones are becoming useful tools in combatting poaching, delivering critical medicines to remote areas, and assisting in the search and rescue of refugees.

Technology is a tool for social change. Drones are no exception.

Drones and other UAVs have a wide-array of potential applications. As the devices become smaller, more lightweight, equipped with increasingly powerful sensor and camera technology, and increasingly affordable, drones are proving to be excellent tools.

Application of drone technology is now extending beyond data collection, security, and entertainment; drones are now becoming useful tools in combatting poaching, delivering critical medicines to remote areas, and assisting in the search and rescue of refugees.

Combatting Poaching

The illegal hunting of endangered and threatened species is still a critical issue in some parts of the world. Poachers, often in the cover of darkness, still regularly breach the protected habitats of endangered animals. While wildlife park rangers regularly patrol these habitats, it is a dangerous job. There have been instances where poachers have kidnapped and murdered park rangers in order to poach animals with high value on the black market.

The Air Shepard drone program was implemented in early 2016 to help wildlife park rangers monitor and intercept poachers in the Ezemvelo KwaZulu-Natal Wildlife resort in South Africa. The program was launched via a partnership between the wildlife resort, the Lindbergh Foundation, and South Africa’s national Peace Parks Foundation.

The program makes use out of relatively silent and small aerial drones to patrol areas in the park that are most likely to be breached by poachers. Equipped with infrared cameras, the drones can detect poachers at night, and can send the geographical location to its operators. This enables park rangers to coordinate an interception, and provides a higher level of safety to their efforts.


A fleet of Air Shepherd Drones. Image courtesy of Air Shepherd via Indiegogo.


Currently, Air Shepard is active in South Africa, Malawi, and Zimbabwe and is currently campaigning to use its drone technology to prevent cyanide poisoning of water sources used by animals.

Delivering Medicine and Blood to Mothers in Tanzania

The Department for International Development in the United Kingdom is funding a trial run of a program which will use drones to deliver medicine and blood to rural areas in Tanzania. This program aims to combat maternal-related deaths due to blood loss.

Currently, it takes nearly an hour and a half to deliver medical supplies by vehicle in rural Tanzania. The country also sees regular flooding of roadways, compounding the issue of timely medical assistance.

The drones being used in the program can deliver up to 2lbs of medical supplies in 20 minutes within a 47-mile radius. The drones fly at an altitude of 500 feet, bypassing any terrestrial obstacles.

Drones are an economical and timely solution to the delivery of critical supplies in regions of the world with poor infrastructure, or in the occurrence of disasters which would make other methods of delivery difficult such as floods or landslides.

Search and Recovery of Refugees

In an effort to facilitate the safe rescue and arrival of refugees, Drones for Refugees is a program using drones to monitor the Mediterranean sea between Turkey and Greece. This particular passage has seen a surge of traffic, as well as an alarming fatality rate, as many refugees travel unsafely on overcrowded boats and rafts.

The drones monitor areas of the sea using high-resolution cameras and relay GPS coordinates back to volunteers who can take search and recovery action. The drones provide real-time footage and coordinate data which also cuts down the time between observation, and to when help is actually sent. The drones are operated using FPV goggles. 

The program intends on adding the ability to drop a first aid kit to refugees that have been found and display messages in a variety of languages.


Prototype of the Drones for Refugees drone setup. Image courtesy of Drones for Refugees.


After completing a pilot program in late 2016, Drones for Refugees is currently in the second iteration in the program’s phase.

The mandate of Drones for Refugees is to use drone technology for social good, humanize and bring awareness of the refugee crisis, increase transparency in journalism, and of course, to make rescuing refugees more affordable and quicker.



Drones are changing the world around us every day. Instances like these prove that they can make real change for the betterment of mankind. How else will drones change the world?