All the rage these days, the drone industry recently took a decisive turn by deciding to miniaturize its models. The utility of these new insect-sized drones goes beyond being mere amusements, with medical or farming applications projected for the future.
Beginning in 2006, many scientific publications such as Wired forecast the arrival of nanotechnology as the next big revolution in the drone industry. What was once described as a sci-fi vision of the future has now become reality.
Today, micro-drones are a central component of research and development. The drone market is growing and is expected to be an industry worth CDN$12.3 billion by 2020.
In Québec, micro-drones are used mainly in agriculture to visualize and diagnose the state of cultures and harvests. Another important application has been developed in the geomatics sector, where micro-drones are used to integrate geographic data.
While it is possible in this province to learn how to pilot these devices, flying unmanned aerial drones over Quebec cities is prohibited unless you receive authorization from Transport Canada. Between 2011 and 2014, the number of Special Flight Operations certificates issued has multiplied by a factor of six, increasing from 155 authorizations to over 1,000, both drones and micro-drones included.
Micro-drone fun for the general public
Inspired by the flight ability of flies and based on the study of insect behaviour, micro-drones have also captivated the toy industry. Morrison Innovations launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo that has already amassed US$42,200 towards their Axis Nano Drone, which is 8.9 cm by 2.5 cm (3.5 inches by 1 inch) and weighs 14 grams. The first models were sent out at the end of April 2015.
One offshoot of the micro-drone industry will find applications in medicine. “Natural” micro-drones have been tested in mice as a treatment for atherosclerosis, one of the main causes of death in western countries. Placed inside a nanoparticle, the Annexine A1 protein is used to repair blocked arteries. The protein acts as a drone that targets cholesterol deposits (plaques) in order to reduce and eliminate them. These plaques block arteries and cause myocardial infarction (heart attacks) and angina.
A recent study in Science Translational Medicine reports that a team from Columbia University, associated with Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has successfully used nanoparticles in an initial series of preclinical tests. “It’s the first time we’ve used nanoparticles as a targeted technology,” confirms Omid Farokhzad, a professor at Harvard Medical School. “Modern medicine is undergoing an extremely innovative phase, and the future of nanomedicine is promising.”
Although this technique has only been tested on mice and human trials likely won’t happen for several years, the study reveals doctors’ growing interest in this new tool, which will allow them to better treat cardiovascular disease.