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Spies, herders, painters: the many unusual roles of drones

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)