Amazon conservation group use drones to fight rain forest logging

While drones are getting a lot of press these days as either high-tech toys or dangerous hazards, they are also being used as effective tools for great causes. Take the Amazon Basin Conservation Association for example, who use a custom drone to fly above the rain forest in Peru, scanning for illegal logging and mining taking place, both of which damage the local ecosystem. The group uses a custom made wing-style drone to get more range than a quadcopter, and are able to protect a reserve that measures 550-square-miles.

First the conservation group uses satellite imagery to narrow down targets, they fly a $5,000 drone with a three-foot wingspan overhead, using GPS for precise navigation. Their drone can cover up to 10 miles, and because it's able to fly underneath the region's cloud cover, the attached camera can get clear shots of tree poachers and gold miners caught in the act.

Prior to this effort, it was difficult to stop acts of deforestation due to it taking place in the middle or remote ares of the jungle. With their drone, Amazon Basin Conservation Association says they've been able to discover a number of illegal mines, and stop poachers from entering protected areas.

The drone was designed by Max Messinger, a grad student from Wake Forest University, which is also studying reforestation efforts in the Amazon. Made of foam, the UAV weight less than 3 pounds, and has a single propeller in the back where a tail would normally be, which gives the name to its "flying wing" shape.