Drones Set to Target Agriculture

Wave UAV - Volt Aerial RoboticsEven though drones are making headlines for targeting and killing suspected terrorists overseas, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) reports that 90% of drones in the United States will be used for public safety and agricultural purposes.

AUVSI also predicts that drones will stimulate $82 billion in economic activity and create up to 100,000 new jobs between 2015 and 2025.

Drones or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for agricultural use can be as light as 2 pounds and fly thousands of feet in the air, though the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires that they cruise at low altitude (up to 400 feet) and stay within visual range. Most UAVs can either be remote controlled or flown autonomously using pre-programmed flight plans.

Today’s Precision Agriculture

Precision agriculture, a farm management system that focuses on optimizing yields while preserving resources, relies on an array of remote sensing technology – Satellites and piloted aircrafts are used to take infrared images to determine soil condition, weed coverage and overall crop health. On-ground machinery like tractor booms are also rigged with multi-spectral cameras that can take critical crop measurements.

The Drone Difference

However, the high performance GPS in UAVs can be controlled with more precision. Also, real-time image capture provides data on individual plants and foliage, and allows growers, who normally monitor and analyze crops on foot, to cover larger swaths of land more efficiently.

UVAs also help to process data faster and eliminate the time required to arrange planes at local airports, while allowing for more flexibility since UVAs can operate during cloud cover.

According to a recent report in the Wall Street Journal, universities across the U.S. are now experimenting with UVAs to help growers determine whether crops need water, are ailing from insect infestation or require additional UVAs provide real-time images to determine crop conditionsfertilizer. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, for instance, is using UVAs to detect microbes in the atmosphere that may cause plant diseases.

The Future Drones On

Japan, South Korea and Australia are already using UVAs to tend their farms. Though limited to research facilities and government agencies in the U.S., the FAA is expected to give the green light to commercial use of small UVA systems for agriculture later in 2013. UVA technology is evolving rapidly, though it is still a bit early to determine if UVAs will meet AUVSI’s economic expectations. D

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