Drones are the latest tools being used in the ongoing quest to learn more about dinosaurs. Photo: Damian Kelly

Drones are hot right now. Falling prices and dramatic adverts are certainly selling their appeal, and more scientists are noting their ability to perform previously impossible feats (like allowing volcanologists to investigate lava lakes). And now, dinosaur hunters have grabbed a couple of the robot Frisbees for themselves.

Dinosaurs came in all shapes and sizes: from the very tiny Compsognathus (which weighed just 2.5kg, or 5.5lbs) to the gargantuan and appropriately named Dreadnoughtus schrani, a beast that weighed in at 77 tonnes and stood 20m (66ft) tall. As you might suspect, some of the larger dinos must have left enormous footprints – but millions of years later, smoothed by erosion and covered by vegetation or the ebb and flow of tides, these supersized tracks can be hard to spot. You might be standing right inside one and not even know it.

And that’s where drones are proving their worth to palaeontologists, including a team working along the "Dinosaur Coast" in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia – the site of some of the largest and best preserved dinosaur footprints in the world. Around 130 million years ago, a herd of lumbering monsters traversed the warm, lush Cretaceous-era land, and left footprints along what is now the West Kimberley coast. These large, circular imprints left by sauropods (the group that includes the largest land animals ever to have lived), exist here along with smaller, bird-like theropod (beast-footed) dinosaur prints.

Yet despite the area's "well-trodden" character, the dinosaur tracks here have not been studied in detail, or properly mapped. Until now. Researchers from the University of Queensland led by Dr Steve Salisbury are conducting an extensive study of the area – and they're using drone technology to help them. Recently, the team unleashed low-flying drones that zoomed across the landscape, searching vast swathes of terrain to give the scientists a totally new perspective on the dinosaur footprints. Crucially, these drones flew at a height that allowed them to "see" things that land-bound humans couldn't. What's more, the drones could also search along jagged cliffs, crumbling coast walls and other inaccessible areas.

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Dr Steve Salisbury and his team flying a drone in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia. Photo: Damian Kelly

"It's allowing us to get up above some of the more interesting track sites, and get lots of good video footage, which is really exciting, and lots of fun," Salisbury tells ABC News.

Most of the footprints had been made by enormous, four-legged (tetrapod) vegetarians, such as the Brachiosaurus – one footprint type is over 1.5m long! Others belong to dinosaurs that previously had no substantial record in any other part of Australia – such as the Anchisaurus, another four-legged vegetarian. There are also tracks made by the Stegosaurus, which provide the only evidence that these dinosaurs roamed the continent.

Thanks to the team's hard work, a range of footprints from the land before time – upwards of 20 different species of dinosaur – has been discovered. In order to preserve these important finds, the team has been making silicon casts of them to examine in the laboratory. “We take physical moulds of tracks using a rapid-setting silicon rubber which can then be used to produce rigid plastic replicas ... We also take overlapping sets of high-resolution photographs of individual tracks and entire rock platforms, which we later convert into 3D digital models,” says palaeontologist and dinosaur track expert Dr Anthony Romilio, who is part of the project.

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A rapid-setting silicon rubber is used to make casts of the dino prints. Image: Damian Kelly

"[This work] is really helping bring the coastline to life, and bring the track sites to life, because they're a record of what the dinosaurs were doing 130 million years ago," Salisbury adds.

Perhaps this research will inspire scientists in other sites across the world that potentially still conceal dinosaur footprints. I for one would love to see drones hunt down the tracks of the new titanosaur species unearthed in Argentina last year. This (aforementioned) Dreadnoughtus scharni, whose name means “fear nothing”, is thought to be the largest animal ever to walk the earth. Amazingly, the 77-tonne specimen discovered in the Patagonian desert died before it was fully grown!

Although its skeleton was remarkably well preserved, none of its vast footprints have been discovered – yet. Send in the drones!