Drones are changing your world

Depending on what you've read, drones are devastatingly effective weapons of war, the next big threat to personal privacy, a revolutionary leap in video technology or hazardous toys capable of chopping your fingers off.

Consumer Reports looks at some of the innovative ways that researchers and pioneering companies are developing to use these flying robots right now.

-- Package delivery. In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos said about 86 percent of the orders the online retailer ships weigh less than 5 pounds. That's lightweight enough to be delivered by drone. Amazon is now testing autonomous aircraft that can drop a book or a pair of shoes at your home within 30 minutes of receiving an order. So it's not difficult to imagine a day when you no longer have to rush out to the store in your pajamas for a quart of milk.

-- Agriculture. In recent years, farmers have discovered that drones are very useful for monitoring the health of their fields. When fourth-generation grain and apple farmer Jeff VanderWerff gets a commercial license, he plans to put the craft to use on the family's 1,800-acre Michigan grain farm. Aerial imagery from a drone equipped with an NDVI (normalized difference vegetation index) camera could help him accurately estimate the yield of a crop in July, rather than waiting until harvest in October. With special software, he could analyze that imagery, spotting crops beset by diseases, weeds and flooding while there's still time to save them. And he could then use the drone to efficiently apply fertilizers and pesticides.

-- Photos and videos. The soaring panoramas captured by drones are compelling enough to have made their way into movies such as "Captain America: Civil War," and "The Wolf of Wall Street," as well as CNN's coverage of the earthquakes in Italy and Ecuador a year ago. According to Consumer Reports, real estate agents and travel hot spots are embracing the technology, too, to promote their scenic offerings.

-- Humanitarian aid. Some 1.3 billion to 2.1 billion people on the planet don't have access to essential medicines, the World Health Organization says, often because they live in hard-to-reach places. To address that concern, California drone-maker Zipline signed a deal with the government of Rwanda last February to shuttle supplies to remote areas on demand. With "Zip" drones, which cover a roughly 50-mile radius, a health center in Rwanda can send a text message to order blood for a patient with severe malaria-related anemia, and it shows up via parachute within 40 minutes.

Consumer Reports notes that similar efforts involving organizations such as UNICEF and Doctors Without Borders and the companies Matternet and Vayu are already underway in Malawi, Madagascar and Papua New Guinea. Last August, the Obama administration announced that it would partner with private-sector firms to begin testing the idea on Maryland's Smith Island, Washington's San Juan Islands and Nevada's Pyramid Lake Tribal Health Clinic.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

Super food or super hype?

You might have heard them called superfoods, power foods or miracle cures. But the research is still out on exactly how beneficial apple cider vinegar, bone broth, coconut oil and turmeric are -- and some might have a downside.

Consumer Reports takes a look at some of the claims -- and the reality -- of superfoods.

-- Apple Cider Vinegar

The claims: Drinking it regularly fights bacteria, lowers cholesterol, controls blood sugar levels and aids weight loss. It also fights heartburn, because low acid causes heartburn, and vinegar is an acid.

The reality: It makes for a great salad dressing, but the health benefits of apple cider vinegar are overblown. According to William Chey, M.D., a gastroenterologist and professor of medicine and nutrition at the University of Michigan, there's no solid evidence that low acid levels lead to reflux.

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And Chey says he has treated several patients who have damaged their esophagus by overdoing it on this vinegar.

-- Bone Broth

The claims: It fights inflammation, makes skin look younger and boosts energy.

The reality: Bone broth is simply stock, which is made by simmering animal or fish bones. "It's been used as a traditional medicine for hundreds of years, so there are likely benefits, but there isn't much published research," says Robin Foroutan, M.S., RDN, an integrative nutritionist in New York City and a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

It may help with inflammation. But Consumer Reports notes that a small study found that chicken broth made with bones had higher lead levels (but still below the Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 15 parts per billion).

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-- Coconut Oil

The claims: This saturated fat doesn't raise cholesterol levels the way other saturated fats do. It also promotes weight loss and prevents Alzheimer's disease.

The reality: Some small studies suggest that coconut oil may be less unhealthy than other saturated fats, such as those in red meat and full-fat dairy products.

Adding a small amount of coconut oil to your diet may be reasonable if you use it to replace other oils or fats, but its purported health benefits haven't been proved. And like other oils, it contains about 120 calories per tablespoon.

-- Turmeric

The claims: It kills cancerous tumors and reduces inflammation.

The reality: Studies have shown that curcumin, a compound in this golden-hued spice, can kill and prevent the growth of various types of cancer cells in the lab. And another study suggested that extract of turmeric worked as well as ibuprofen in treating knee osteoarthritis.

Consumer Reports points out that in both cases, more research is needed. There's probably no harm in adding turmeric to your food, but it can potentially interact with some medications, such as blood thinners, so check with your doctor.

To learn more, visit ConsumerReports.org

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