General security

Drones: The Future of Information Gathering

Irfan Shakeel
August 23, 2016 by
Irfan Shakeel

Just a few years back, drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) were unknown to the world. These days, drones are idealized up with the thoughts of bombing and raining missiles on suspicious bad guys around the world. However, drones more generally described as an Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAVs), focus on gathering data from the locations where humans are not efficient enough to work.

Drones are working as a game changer with its ability to generate and gather information more effectively and are used for capturing remotely-sensed information.

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Technological Background

Over the last few years, a convergence of technology has transformed Radio Controlled (RC) model airplanes into Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs). Particularly, the ability to attain GPS signals enables drones to fly autonomously. Before this, RC model airplanes are required to maintain visual contact with their plane. If they couldn't see it in flight, they couldn't control it. Adding a GPS system to Drones makes it revolutionary, as the pilot can control it without seeing the entire flight path.

Moreover, Wi-Fi technology has been added to the drones that stream Wi-Fi cameras to the smartphones and tablets. Apparently, even though you may not have visual contact with your drone, but Wi-Fi camera enables you to see what drone can see. This allows pilots to alter and monitor the flight path for further inspection.


The drones that are mostly used to gather information from remote locations have multiple rotors. These UAVs typically have several components: An aircraft, a gimbal and a payload or instrument(s) attached to the gimbal. Without these components, the aircraft is more like an RC airplane than a drone.

The Gimbal is a device attached between the drone and payload the aircraft is carrying. It is used to eliminate the vibration that can affect the image streaming.

The gathered information from a drone is must be processed, where the software system comes under consideration. It is the most crucial component, without it drone will be useless and couldn't become revolutionary and future of information gathering.


Drones are not creating a new market or GIS applications that are used to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of spatial or geographical data, but will extend existing markets as they are capable of gathering and accessing data more inexpensively than the current methods. It is far less costly than the other methods that involve pilot and dedicated plane to collect information in the past.

There are many industries where drones can replace their existing hectic systems that are costly and require much task force. Various industries that can adopt and some have already adopted this new emerging technology includes remote sensing, weather monitoring, oil and gas exploration, transmission line monitoring, surveying, filmmaking, precision farming, terrain extraction, digital image analysis, commercial aerial surveillance, disaster relief, construction and 3D topographical imagery analysis.

Remote Sensing

Drones can carry sensing equipment to assist with any number of functions. The agriculture, geological, archeological and other industries can benefit from the numerous sensors that can be integrated into a drone.

Here are some examples that how drone can be used in the agricultural industry and how aerial sensors are benefiting and expanding the applications of drones:

  • The drone can use remote sensing technology Lidar to measure the height of crops. It is a sensor that illuminates the object with a laser (infrared or UV) and then measures what is reflected back.
  • Heat sensors can be attached to the drone that can detect the temperature of livestock, the presence of water, water temperature, and for other surveillance purpose.
  • Multi-spectral and visual sensors can help us to count plants, the crop density in a field, check the health of plants, and even assess water quality. It also provides us with feasibility to survey and map lands.
  • Biological sensors can be used to take air quality readings and check for the presence of specific microorganisms or organic compounds.

Commercial Aerial Surveillance

Nowadays, where global community is going through many security challenges, whenever the word surveillance is heard, the first thing that comes to our mind is about security cameras that are installed in the streets to catch lawbreakers.

Commercial surveillance can be done by using a drone with commercial surveillance sensors to spy and monitor on your personal property, movements and other activities. Here are some examples that how aerial surveillance can be helpful:

  • Farmers can use drones to monitor livestock on vast spreads of land.
  • Fire departments can use drones to track and map wildfires.
  • Private companies can use drones to monitor their infrastructure such as pipelines, buildings, and so on.
  • Using drones to inspect power lines, towers, tall structures like chimneys and roofs would save businesses vast amounts of money and also eliminates the exposure of human life to danger.

Atmospheric Research

Ozone layer plays a critical role in protecting the Earth's surface from harmful ultraviolet (UV) radiation. To better understand that how water vapor and other gasses interacts with the ozone layer, NASA is sending a UAV into the stratosphere layer where protective ozone is found.

It will help researchers to study how changes in water vapor and other gasses in the stratosphere can affect global climate.

Highway Study and Monitoring:

There are roughly around 4 million miles of highway in the United States, But who is monitoring? A small part of which has cameras, whereas someday we can monitor this whole network of the highway by using drones.

The federal highway administration and the Georgia Department of Transportation have granted $75,000 for the project to study the use of drones for inspecting roads and bridges, surveying land with the laser mapping and alerting officials to traffic jams and accidents.

"Drones could keep workers safer because they won't be going into traffic or hanging off a bridge. It would help with the physical limitations of the human when doing this kind of work", Said Javier Irizarry, director of the CONECTech Lab at the Georgia Institute of Technology.

Disaster Relief

Drones can be used for the widest range of application for disaster relief, from entering radiation filled hot zone to earthquake effected areas where human access would be dangerous or are incapable of rescuing other human lives.

Researchers at the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology recently received a grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop drones to deliver vaccines and medicines to hard-to-reach locations and disaster zones.

Environmental Compliance

Surreptitious activities like dumping toxic waste are strictly prohibited around the world and counts as a crime under environmental law. However, drones may prove to be a cost-effective solution to that problem.

A drone hobbyist in Texas discovered a river of blood flowing into the Trinity River near Dallas. The blood, it turns out, was coming from a meat-packing plant that was discharging into the river. This report helped Texas Environmental Authorities to start an investigation and stop such violation of environmental laws.

Oil, Gas and Mineral Exploration

Nowadays, the companies are using drones for pipeline leakage detection. Researchers have researched on how infrared can be used to find hot spots and how drones can enhance operations in arctic conditions, including ice break-ups and ice floes, making it possible to shoot videos and photos more often to find problems.

With the help of electromagnetic sensors on drones, it can be used to gather geological information which will help geophysicists to identify and better approximate the location and presence of minerals, oil, and natural gas.

Surveillance and Intelligence Purpose

Drones are also being used for intelligence purpose by intelligence agencies around the world. It helps them to gain intelligence against enemy targets by government agencies and against business competitors for high-level competitive intelligence gathering.

Another Surveillance application that can be achieved by drones includes law enforcement, private investigation, spying, disaster recovery, search and rescue and military reconnaissance.

In many cases of military operations, the drone may be weaponized. The so-called "Drones" that we hear in the news every day.

There is lots of work being conducted in the field of drone applications. The most severe are the security aspect of drones. As it is easily available on the market, anyone can purchase and conduct a survey on his own.

The Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) forecasted that the UAS industry could raise the domestic economy by at least $13.6B and will create 70,000 new jobs within the next three years.

The AUVSI further estimates the economic benefit could be more than $82B by 2025.

There are many UAVs companies that have received venture funding. A company like Ariware got $40 million; 3D Robotics got $35 million; Skycatch got $19.7 million funding. (Crunchbase Sources)

The drone's related security and privacy rights in the United States are limiting drone usage. Some states ban all types of aerial photography of private and unauthorized government properties.

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There are many reported cases in which people claims of being spied by drones. The government is working on it and making more security limitation for the use of a drone to maintain public privacy and maximized use of drone's application as it is the most inexpensive way to do many tasks where humans are incapable of performing or their life are exposed to some danger situations.

Irfan Shakeel
Irfan Shakeel

Irfan Shakeel is the founder & CEO of An engineer, penetration tester and a security researcher. He specializes in Network, VoIP Penetration testing and digital forensics. He is the author of the book title “Hacking from Scratch”. He loves to provide training and consultancy services, and working as an independent security researcher.