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From wildlife surveys to helping offset carbon emissions, drones are helping tackle the climate emergency

Published on March 7, 2022
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Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – or drones – have emerged as the newest weapon in the battle against climate change. From aerial surveys to monitoring and inspection, drones are being used track wildlife numbers, collect samples and track methane emissions.

“Drones can be a critical asset when tackling sustainability,” says Rabih Bou Rached Founder and CEO of FEDS – Drone Powered Solutions. “They can either reduce your carbon footprint as a by-product or be intentionally used as a tool to improve sustainability.”

Established in the UAE in 2014, the company is now ranked among the top 20 mapping, surveying and inspection providers by Drone Industry Insights, a market intelligence firm.

FEDS is a success partner of the Living Business programme and provides technical expertise for project customers. Its solutions range from 3D mapping and land surveying way through to progress monitoring and inspection across a wide range of industries, including construction and oil and gas.

Often called the steam engines of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), drones are proving their worth in doing dirty, dull, dangerous – and data-rich – jobs.

They have a particularly outsize impact in terms of sustainability, presenting industries with the opportunity to move to more environmentally friendly business models in response to increasing pressure from consumers and regulators alike. 

How drones improve sustainable outcomes

“The most significant benefit of drones is their data,” Bou Rached says. “You can conduct large-scale environmental research to quantify a nation’s natural reserves. Armed with that knowledge, you can make educated and precise decisions on how to allocate resources and what steps need to be taken to preserve these resources. From farms to largescale agronomic projects, drones improve resource efficiency tremendously.” 

The UAE has already used a drone-powered asset survey to count wildlife, livestock and vegetation across 1,100 sqkm of its area – an expanse spanning mountains, wadis, deserts and beaches. UAVs are ideally positioned to achieve these goals as compared to existing options. Satellite imagery cannot achieve the necessary clarity, while a terrestrial fact-gathering expedition would not be completed in time to create a meaningful data set. With drones, the UAE’s Ministry of Climate Change and Environment (MoCCaE) mapped the entire area in 64 days.

Drones offer other ways for organisations to achieve their net-zero goals, directly and indirectly.

Drone inspections of remote facilities, for example, can be cheaper and less labour intensive than manual exercises, delivering sustainability benefits by lowering costs, unlocking efficiencies and reducing resource waste.

Similarly, delivery drones are speeding up last-mile logistics solutions, minimising CO2 emissions in the process.

More directly, specially equipped drones find application in precision agriculture, gathering geo-referenced multispectral data and then dispense seeds, pesticides, and fertilisers for optimal resource efficiency.

In waste management, customised drones help offset carbon emissions through reforestation, sustainable logistics and detecting methane emissions to generate clean energy.

It’s no wonder that Bou Rached has seen demand for UAV solutions explode in recent years. His company has grown alongside, having partnered with the Aerodyne Group, the Malaysia-based industry leader, in 2020. “FEDS has expanded at an exponential rate. In just a few years, we’ve outgrown three offices, and we’re going to shift again within a few months. We will have gone from three people to about 45 now, with a projection to hit 100 staff next year,” he says.

In part, that has been because of his team’s role in educating the market on sustainability and in working closely with the government to realise wide-scale drone deployments safely and effectively. “We want to make drone solutions more accessible,” Bou Rached says. “To make that happen, we’ve set up a new expansion, The Drone Centre, to help businesses and organisations integrate drone technology into their operations and train them for success.”

But with the world embracing a paradigm shift, businesses are increasingly looking to improve their environmental credentials. With about 80% of large companies now reporting on sustainability, according to KPMG, the role of UAVs will only become more important in the years ahead.

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