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Keeping the elephants safe in South Africa. (Flickr)

Drones are proven for surveillance or delivery, but what's less widely known is their usefulness for herding elephants and seeing through walls.

Quick take: Businesses and non-profits are finding innovative ways to use drones to accomplish tasks that humans cannot do, and these developments have yielded benefits for environmental conservation, military strategy and more.

  • Conservation Drones is equipping Nepal and parts of Africa with low-cost aircraft that spot elephant poachers in the forest. (Scientific American)
  • Drones in Hawaii have found rare plant species by flying to precarious spots like steep cliffs. (The Verge)
  • Researchers at the University of California in Santa Barbara have developed drones that see through walls, making them expert spies. As two drones navigate a closed structure, one emits a Wi-Fi signal, and the other picks it up. Together, they build a 3D image of the interior. (TechCrunch)
  • Drones found a till-then undiscovered ancient monument in Petra. It's the size of an Olympic swimming pool. (National Geographic)
  • Drones are herding elephants away from crops during harvest time in Tanzania. The pachyderms retreat when they spot the unmanned aircraft. (New Atlas)
  • An Italian project, "Paint By Drone," uses the aircraft to produce murals and designs on massive vertical surfaces. (CityLab)
  • In Australia, an engineer is developing drones that release germinated seeds to replace forests. She predicts the drones will be able to plant a billion trees a year to combat the climate effects of deforestation. (Australian Broadcasting Company)

Go deeper

"Atmospheric river" to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood

A map depicting 24-hour preciptation forecast (inches) ending Monday at 5a.m. local time. Photo: NOAA

A series of powerful "atmospheric river" storms are set dump historic amounts of rainfall across parts of drought-stricken California and the Pacific Northwest from this weekend, forecasters warn.

Why it matters: A strong atmospheric river, packing large amounts of moisture, is predicted to whiplash Northern California from drought to flood.

10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves to be removed after fires

A firefighter looks up at a giant sequoia tree after fire burned through the Sequoia National Forest near California Hot Springs, California, on Sept. 23. Photo: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images

"Upwards of" 10,000 trees near giant sequoia groves have been "weakened by drought, disease, age, and/or fire" and must be removed in the wake of California's wildfires, the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks announced.

Why it matters: The damage to these trees, considered "national treasures," and work to remove them means a nearby key highway must remain closed to visitors as they have "the potential to strike people, cars, other structures, or create barriers to emergency response services," per a statement from the national parks.

Obama stumps for McAuliffe, urges Virginians not "to go back to the chaos"

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

Former President Barack Obama framed a Nov. 2 gubernatorial race as a bellwether for the Democratic Party and the country, telling a crowd at a campaign event for Terry McAuliffe on Saturday that "I believe you, right here in Virginia, are going to show the rest of the country and the world that we're not going to indulge in our worst instincts."

Why it matters: With just over a week to go before Election Day in the Commonwealth, McAuliffe is bringing out the big guns. The 44th president appeared on the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University to urge supporters to get to the polls.

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