Photos: Drones for good - from disaster rescue to replanting the world's forests

Drones increasingly play a role in modern warfare, with the US military planning to spend about $2bn on the unmanned aircraft this year.

To highlight that drones have uses beyond killing, the world's first Drones for Good competition was held in Dubai this month.

Thirty nine entrants worldwide were whittled down to five finalists, who competed for a $1m grant to develop prototype drones for purposes ranging from organ transportation to disaster rescue.

Helping harvests

More people in the world are going hungry than ever before - about one sixth of the global population - according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations.

Feeding the more than one billion people below the breadline will be a challenge without increasing harvests, and a German start-up hopes that drone technology could help.

Quantum Systems is a Munich based start-up that builds fully autonomous copters that offer farmers a bird's eye view of their fields.

The unmanned aerial vehicles can plot flights over crops and survey their health using a multispectral sensor system.

This system can tell the farmer the amount of water and nutrition needed by his plants, increasing the chances of a good harvest and reducing waste due to plants receiving unnecessary water or fertiliser.

Quantum is experimenting with a drone that can take off and land vertically like a helicopter but once airborne tilts its propellers to allow it fly forward in an energy-efficient manner. The start-up says its aircraft can use its electric motors to cover more than 200 times the area of a traditional drone copter, giving it a range of more than 500km.

Image: Quantum Systems

By Nick Heath

Nick Heath is a computer science student and was formerly a journalist at TechRepublic and ZDNet.