January is a busy month for agricultural companies. It’s a month that strong sales can set the mood for the rest of the calendar year, it’s a month full of trade shows, and it’s a bitterly cold month for most of the U.S. One show outside of agriculture that has been on my radar in recent years has been the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas in January. Most of the 180,000 invitation-only attendees will visit the 4,000 exhibitors and talk about 10-foot wide TVs, voice-control bath tubs, smart toilets, and electric cars that will navigate a parking lot when you summon it with your phone.
Interestingly, with every CES there happens to be more and more precision ag professional that attend. While going to this show was not in my budget this year, I did observe this year’s show via the Internet. One company that exhibited and caught my attention was Kray Technologies originally out of Kiev, Ukraine. The company was founded in 2014 with one goal in mind: providing crop protection for growers affordably, conveniently, and on time. How you may ask: by making aerial application of chemicals available to every farmer.
Their answer is the agricultural drone Kray Protection UAS, which is an octocopter with lifting wing and a forward-facing propeller. This hybrid design enables it to have a take-off weight of 77 pounds, which is slightly better than the ones at your local Best Buy. What does one do with all this power? Spray of course! Plug in the twin 16 amp hour batteries, top off the 5.9-gallon (22.33 liter) spray tank and once you take off, the 16.4 foot (5 meter) spray boom folds out. By strictly keeping to a three-foot altitude above the crop, it can apply its payload at 68 mph. With six atomizers capable of a uniform droplet size of 20-100 μm it is able to cover 2.3 acre/minute, which equals almost 37 acres/round. With refills and battery swapping; a one-person UAV team will be able to cover 1,000 to 1,200 acres a day. With a base station in the field it has sub-inch GPS accuracy and has the ability to provide variable rate application of chemicals.
I recently talked with the CEO of Kray Technologies, Dmytro Surdu, about his company and their Protection UAS:
How will the Kray Protection UAS help farmers compared to a traditional sprayer?
Kray Protection UAS provides the comprehensive replacement to current application techniques, but with 4-10 times lower operation cost, depending on the application scenario. Also, it virtually eliminates yield losses, which are inevitable with the current technologies due to trampling and missing the processed area in drift buffer zones and no-fly zones.
It is inexpensive so it can be purchased by farmers. Farmers are able to operate it at the time they need it without being locked to costly application services purchases.
How easy is the UAS to operate?
Operators select the field border or load the shape file of application prescription, enter the drop size, press the “Plan” button and then just start the mission to automate take-off and operation. Once the tanks are emptied, the UAV returns to the station and makes an automated landing. It is ready to continue the operation after the hot-swap battery replacement and fast-tank refilling.
Nevertheless, that operation requires certified trainings and UAS operator exams passed to comply with the aviation regulations in being able to operate aircrafts manually.
When will this be available for farmers to use?
We are currently selling a limited amount of Pre-Series UAS to farmers, operators, and key partners for pilot projects to be conducted in 2018. The launch of the Series UAS in Canada is planned for the end of 2018.
Besides having a pesticide applicator license, is there any other licenses a farmer would need before they can take off?
In Canada, the UAS operator needs to hold a Special Flight Operation Certificate, which can be obtained in a few months after applying. There are lot of companies which can help to pass the process, such as our partners and customers, and Kray will be happy to help on this matter, too.
In the U.S., the legal framework for the regular operation is to be established in 2019 before the official U.S. launch. Meanwhile, exemptions for the pilot projects can be obtained so our current customers are able to operate for promos and research this year.
What will be included with the UAS?
The UAS includes one UAV with the integrated ground station, which allows it to perform operations with maximum productivity safely.
I hear your company is relocating to California, how has this move gone and how has it benefited your customers?
Actually, Kray is a U.S. company from day one. It is by design that our key markets are markets of North America. We are establishing operation scale in accordance to our development plans. The office in California, among others, will benefit local customers with technical service and fast maintenance as California is one of the most developed agricultural states with high crop protection application needs.
How many units are you looking to ship this year?
We are selling up to 15 UAS for Pilot Projects and dozens in pre-orders after launching in Canada this fall.
What is next for Kray Technologies?
The next goal is to make the Kray Protection technology a key part of the agricultural revolution over the next decade. Reducing the cost of the industrial crop protection application has as much implication on agriculture as reusable rockets has on space exploration and colonization. Potentially, this technology can help increase yields drastically, in dozens of percents.