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5 big uses for drones in Palau

Drones or UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) are one of the biggest growth industries of the early 21st Century. Their rise has been stratospheric. Development of flight, navigation, imaging, and automation systems mean that manufacturers are bringing out new models that take huge leaps forward in development every 6 months. I started flying drones about two years ago with a 450 class model and was commissioned almost immediately for work. Since then, I’ve upgraded to an Inspire 1 for its longer flight times, image quality and stability in wind. My company now provides a range of aerial imaging services and flies almost daily. The technology is so innovative it has opened up a range of opportunities in Palau.

I could fly the drone so close there was actually a danger I would melt parts of it.

Flying from boats

One of the first jobs I had was documenting the burning of illegal fishing boats. This took place 11+miles offshore and lasted for 7 hours. We could launch from the main support vessel and fly over the scene multiple times during the burn, returning to the deck and repeating as the burn continued. Logistically, it was far easier and vastly cheaper to use a drone over a light aircraft or helicopter. It also produced low level images in a hover that would have been impossible with a helicopter. Flying from a boat can be a bit daunting. Firstly, don’t do it if you’re a beginner and not confident in what you’re doing. What goes up will also come down and it’s up to you to bring it down onto a very small area on a moving object. I try to use an assistant to act as launcher and catcher unless the deck is huge and non-ferrous (as it messes with the compass). Corner handholds we found work well with the Inspire 1. Having someone get their hands so close to fast spinning blades in such an unstable situation is also a bit worrying, gardening gloves can allay those fears for all parties involved.

Google Earth won’t give a realistic idea about the topography but a drone will.

Real Estate

The northern main island of Palau known as Babeldaob, has huge tracts of land with barely a road near them. The rapid development of Palau in the last 3-4 years has meant that previously undeveloped land is now in high demand especially from foreign investors. The same with the real estate industry in the rest of the world, drones provide affordable aerial imaging of property that enable clients to see what’s there from the aerial perspective. As long as I can get to within a few hundred meters of the site, the drone can fly the rest. Makes a great case when roads need to be built and the next best alternative is Google Earth.

Marine Lakes are each unique and understudied

Documenting the Rock Islands and Marine Lakes of Palau

Whether it’s launched from a beach or from a boat, a drone is the next best thing to a Cessna for filming the UNESCO World Heritage Site that is the Rock Islands of Palau. One particularly cool aspect of the rock islands are the marine lakes that remain secluded within the islands. They can hold huge populations of Jellyfish and even Saltwater Crocodiles. The ability to fly into the cauldron of the lakes and document what is living there is unmatched by any other method and will provide a great tool for studying these unique environments.

Super crane for stunning B-Roll

With a drone you can film a worm’s-eye-view then climb to 1500ft in the space of a minute without changing camera. A Quadcopter’s speed and maneuverability is unmatched by anything that doesn’t actually use jet turbines. One of my favorite shots is to track next to a presenter then ascend to show the environment they are in. Drones provide an incredible increase in production value for a filming project for a relatively small investment transforming any production and injecting sometimes some much needed WOW factor. As an example: My company was commissioned to document the roads and bridges being built in Palau as part of an internationally-funded infrastructure development program. How to make a road or bridge interesting? Film it from a drone.

Protected areas such as this sea grass and reef area in Ngiwal are home to Dugongs and can be quickly and cheaply surveyed from the air with a drone without disturbing the animals, great for assessing population sizes.

Population studies of sensitive animals.

Palau also has a Protected Areas Network that consists of terrestrial, freshwater and marine areas. A drone has been found invaluable for documenting these systems from Velasco Reef in the far north to Helen Reef in the far south. Their small size and low noise output make them ideal for sneaking up on timid animals like dugongs and crocodiles that would otherwise be scared off by a helicopter or 2 stroke outboard. This approach has been used for documenting nesting seabirds up in the far north too however, the birds saw the drone as an invader and all that was documented were the defensive strategies of the nesting colony.

Palau Pacific Resort

Advertising for resorts and business

An extension of real estate media production, the rapid development recently in Palau is the construction of new or development of existing resorts and hotels. Again the flexibility of a drone can shoot from practically any angle at any altitude useful for that business. A much cheaper alternative to a Helicopter, stable and of excellent quality, perfect for all forms, raising the production value of any advertising.

Photo mosaics shot from Drones like this one of Ulong Channel in Palau are expanding the boundaries of aerial photography to new realms.

360 VR photography

Whilst this is a resurgent art form, because Virtual Reality has been around for years, only recently has the availability of software capable of making it usable to regular consumers enabled this form of media to go mainstream. Using drones to get unique perspectives on landscapes is one thing, using drones and the software wonder that is Photoshop to manipulate a photomosaic is another. A drone will hover in one place and only move by a meter in the x,y or z axis making it an incredibly stable platform. Many companies are now hanging 360 cameras under drones for VR 3D video and I’m pretty sure it won’t be long before a major manufacturer will develop their own camera to fit their drones.

(Richard holds a commercial permit to fly drones from the Palau Aviation Authority but also just enjoys stripping one down and flying a bit of fpv every now and then…. See more at

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