Flight Plan For UAVs

UAV

More than 25,000 “field” or agriculture robots will be sold by 2015 — about the same as robots for military use, according to the International Federation of Robotics (IFR). Together, defense and agriculture make up the lion’s share of the nearly 94,000 “service robots for professional use” that the IFR believes will be sold in the next couple of years. Defense and agriculture are by far the two largest categories in IFR calculations, with robots for things like logistics, medicine and rescue coming in well behind.

IFR statistics for 2011 sales of “professional use” robots — as opposed to robots for the industrial sector — offer a snapshot of this market. Overall unit sales in 2011 were up 9% over 2010, with unmanned systems for armies around the world coming in at 6,570, or 40% of the total. Right behind were sales of unmanned systems for agriculture at 5,000 units, or 31%.

Going Commercial

While ground vehicles are dealing with their own sets of challenges in agriculture, companies that want to use robot aerial systems in this market face others. One big hurdle is approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). It’s now illegal to fly unmanned aerial systems for commercial purposes in U.S. airspace (UAS). Assuming the Federal Aviation Administration approves low-level, line-of-sight operations — like those applicable to the monitoring and spraying of crops, for instance — analysts expect the market to boom. An AUVSI report in March 2013 says that during the period 2015-25, integrating UAS into national airspace will contribute $82 billion to the U.S. economy — a whopping $75.6 billion of which will go directly to agriculture. Another $3.2 billion will boost the public safety sector, and the remaining $3.2 billion will go to the “other” category. More than 100,000 jobs would be created.

The 38-page report, “The Economic Impact of Unmanned Aircraft Systems Integration in the United States,” says unit sales of UAS will rocket from just under 40,000 in 2015 — when FAA is expected to give its approval — to about 160,000 by 2025. Even so, the study’s authors take what they say is a conservative approach, using “100,000 unit sales per year as a conservative benchmark.” One of the authors, Bijan Vasigh, a professor of transportation at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, FL, says the numbers could be higher, or lower. “We are really projecting what will happen in a normal scenario. If the scenario is more conducive for [unmanned aircraft], the impact would be much stronger.” At the same time, unforeseen circumstances “could impede progress.”

Some aren’t sure how the FAA will rule, but Vasigh is optimistic. “Frankly, I don’t see that much problem with FAA. I’m a little bit positive on go ahead, especially at lower altitude.”

Optimism, with a bit of caution, is also expressed by Young Kim, general manager of BOSH Precision Agriculture, Newport News, VA. BOSH, which has been oriented to the military UAS market, is shifting its sights to UAS for agriculture because the market is big and steady — as opposed to defense, which is big but probably won’t be steady forever.

“As an entrepreneur, I’m an optimist,” Kim says. At the same time, he sees no large, single, organized group engaging the FAA. “If we can get the farmer, UAV vendors, universities, economic development people, ag trade organizations,” like state cotton and peanut commissions and citrus growers, all addressing the FAA with a unified voice on safety and certification and policy, possibly with AUVSI participation, success would be more certain.

Foreign Expertise

Japan is well ahead of the U.S. in the use of unmanned aerial systems for agriculture. In 1983, the Japanese government asked Yamaha to help it develop an unmanned helicopter for agricultural duties. The country was faced with an aging farming population and wanted to make things like spraying more efficient, according to Steve Markofski, a U.S.-based new business planner for the company. In 1991, he says, Yamaha began to market its first ag-oriented unmanned helo, the R50. Today, 2,150 Yamaha RMAX unmanned helos spray about 2.5 million acres a year in Japan, covering about 40% of the country’s rice paddies. The government backed the idea from the beginning, with the Japanese department of agriculture responsible for regulation.

Yamaha hopes to translate its success in Japan to the U.S. One area that it thinks is promising is spraying vineyards. Yamaha is testing the idea, under a certificate of authorization from the FAA, by flying over vineyards in Napa, CA. They’re about the same size as rice paddies in Japan, five acres or so, and therefore a good match to the RMAX’s four-gallon chemical payload capacity, Markofski says. Tractors, traditionally used in Napa vineyards, can spray about two acres an hour, but RMAX can do 12 to 15 acres an hour. And with RMAX, Markofski says, there’s no soil compaction, no crop damage, the operator is not exposed to chemicals and it is safer, because he doesn’t have to drive in challenging terrain, like slippery hills. “We’re looking at areas [in the U.S.] that we think align directly to the RMAX, and vineyards is one that jumped out at us,” Markofski says.

Canada’s MicroPilot also is waiting for a green light from the FAA. The company, based in Winnipeg, Mani­toba, is a leading manufacturer of UAS autopilots as well as the maker of CropCam, a camera-toting fixed-wing UAS that has made a name for itself in crop monitoring. CropCams have been sold in places like Kazakhstan, Southeast Asia and South America, but approval to fly in the U.S. would be a big boost, says Pierre R. Pepin, vice president of sales and marketing. He says one business model might be to work with those who sell pesticides, for example. They also could sell UAS services. A customer would therefore not only get a product from the seller, but also precise images of his crops.

“Once you’re allowed to fly,” Pepin says, “it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see how you can use those little birds.”

University Research

While getting UAS to take off in ag is still on hold for the commercial market, a lot of research is currently going on at universities to see how unmanned aircraft could be a better imaging alternative for fields.

University of Florida’s Dr. Reza Ehsani is using smaller vertical takeoff and landing UAS to look for the citrus disease huanglongbing (HLB) in the state’s orange groves.

“We have used UAS for detecting HLB-infected citrus trees, and we showed that UAS can provide higher detection accuracy when compared with aerial images that were obtained with a manned airplane,” he says. “Images that we took with UAS had an accuracy of one-inch resolution compared to a 24-inch resolution that we got from aerial images obtained from a manned airplane. We think the higher resolution contributes significantly to higher accuracy of detecting the disease.”

Don Horneck, an extension agronomist professor from Oregon State University, recently teamed with Boeing to conduct a research project using unmanned aircraft systems to monitor potato crops.

“You can fly the UAVs low enough that you can get 1-mm resolution and you can actually look at an individual leaf in the field,” Horneck says.

With this kind of precision, researchers at Oregon State are examining potato crops by stressing the crop for nitrogen and water content. The examination aims to understand how quickly unmanned aircraft can detect deficiencies and other issues in the crops.

Kansas State University has a long list of research topics in ag, including precision agriculture, detection of insect damage, detection of herbicide overspray and mapping. But this summer, Mark Blanks, the school’s UAS program manager, is focusing his time on a new project he says he’s never seen done before — an economic impact comparison between using satellite imagery vs. UAS to monitor a large-scale farm operation.

“We’ll compare the traditional method of satellite data where they normally base decisions on — how to plant, how to fertilize, everything else — with satellite data. And we’ll do other fields using UAS and compare the two and see which one is more beneficial economically.”

The study will look at the entire growing season for the comparison, which stretches beyond press time. Blanks, says, however, “I fully expect us to be far more accurate.”

Blanks says despite a lot of chatter about agriculture with UAS outweighing the traditional alternative, he’s yet to see something as concrete as this study.

“It’s something I haven’t seen yet. I’ve seen a lot of projections about how it’s going to help farmers. And we know it’s good, but I haven’t seen any concrete economic research on it anyway saying, this is the savings, this is the benefit, this is why you should buy UAS,” he says. “We’ve seen a whole lot of anecdotal evidence, but not a lot of solid, thoroughly sound research.”

Read more articles on robotic agriculture.

Leave a Reply

9 comments on “Flight Plan For UAVs

  1. This was a good article, but it left out the only manufacture solely building UAV's for agriculture. AgEagle of Neodesha, Kansas is building a complete turnkey solutions for farmers and crop consultants. They are even designed to fly in windy environments when aerial crop imagery is needed the most. The tractor tough airframe is designed for rugged daily use. The catapult launcher safely launches the aircraft in no wind or windy conditions. While other companies mentioned in this article are shifting their focus to adapt their systems toward agriculture, AgEagle is the only system that is designed and built from the ground up for agricultural work. Check out AgEagle on facebook.

  2. This was a good article, but it left out the only manufacture solely building UAV's for agriculture. AgEagle of Neodesha, Kansas is building a complete turnkey solutions for farmers and crop consultants. They are even designed to fly in windy environments when aerial crop imagery is needed the most. The tractor tough airframe is designed for rugged daily use. The catapult launcher safely launches the aircraft in no wind or windy conditions. While other companies mentioned in this article are shifting their focus to adapt their systems toward agriculture, AgEagle is the only system that is designed and built from the ground up for agricultural work. Check out AgEagle on facebook.

  3. Willie – You are correct. I have heard good things about the Volt Aerial system. However, I am not sure where their pricing is today. A customer who bought an AgEagle system told me recently the Volt system cost was somewhere around $50,000 where the AgEagle system is well under $15,000 which includes all the necessary software to process NDVI images.

  4. Willie – You are correct. I have heard good things about the Volt Aerial system. However, I am not sure where their pricing is today. A customer who bought an AgEagle system told me recently the Volt system cost was somewhere around $50,000 where the AgEagle system is well under $15,000 which includes all the necessary software to process NDVI images.

Drones Stories
DronesMicaSense Announces Atlas, Pix4D Integration
July 28, 2017
MicaSense Atlas is now integrated with Pix4D desktop software. This exciting partnership is designed to offer MicaSense customers the power Read More
DronesSentera Launches Versatile Quad Sensor for Drones
July 12, 2017
Fully Customizable Filters on Sentera Quad Sensor Allow for Unique Crop Health Detection Capabilities Sentera introduces the latest update to Read More
DronesNavigating a New World: Drone Technology in Agriculture (OPINION)
June 20, 2017
My first exposure to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) was as a master’s student at Kansas State University. I was researching Read More
DronesAg Drone Update: The Hunt for 1,000 (OPINION)
June 10, 2017
Having obtained my FAA Part 107 Commercial Drone Operators license back in September of last year, I’ve spent the past Read More
Trending Articles
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agriculture
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More
Wade-Barnes
Excellence AwardsBuilt By Agronomists: 2017 Award Of Excellence Winner Wade Barnes on the Making of Farmers Edge
August 2, 2017
Farmers Edge President And CEO Wade Barnes reflects on the process of building his company, shortly after receiving the Crop Adviser/Entrepreneur Award during the InfoAg Conference in July. Read More
Data ManagementInfoAg 2017 Recap: Service Providers Take Center Stage
July 28, 2017
As I sit here and ponder just what it was that we all experienced last week, off the top of Read More
Resistant-weeds-in-Brazil
InternationalUsing Precision Agriculture to Control Herbicide-Resistant Weeds in Brazil
July 24, 2017
The occurrence of weeds in agricultural fields of grain and fiber production has caused losses to farmers for a long Read More
Yield Data Image
Data ManagementYield Data: More Than a Pretty Picture
July 13, 2017
It is mid-July, which, for the Australian cotton industry, means that picking is still going on for some growers. A Read More
Latest News
Data ManagementBeck’s Builds Out ‘Freemium’ FMIS Off…
August 17, 2017
Beck’s today announced the release of several new tools available in their precision farming service, FARMserver, which enhances farmers’ ability Read More
Israel-Irrigation-system-featured-image
InternationalIsraeli Precision Ag Companies Lead in Water Use Effici…
August 16, 2017
In the last week, AgriHub, formed by farmers and consultants from Brazil, visited 10 Israeli agribusiness companies, including the Ministry Read More
Gregoire-tractor
ProfessionalsMechanization Key to the Future of Vineyard Management
August 15, 2017
Precision technology moves at different speeds across different segments of agriculture. For example, technologies like curve compensation, precision spraying, and Read More
Area-of-Interest-Web-Soil-Survey-screenshot
Data ManagementSignificant Updates Made to SoilWeb, Web Soil Survey Pr…
August 15, 2017
Agronomic professionals and technicians dealing with precision farming must understand the soils within the field before writing effective prescriptions.  A Read More
Univ.-of-Illlinois-Palmer-in-soybean1
Business ManagementOpinion: How to Leverage Precision Agriculture to Launc…
August 14, 2017
To continue where my last article left off (which you can check out here), a precision ag company that specializes Read More
Industry NewsFarm Dog Inks Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement with USD…
August 14, 2017
Farm Dog, a pest and disease management platform for growers and agronomists, has entered into a Non-Funded Cooperative Agreement (NFCA) Read More
Lisa-Prassack-Photo-Credit-Weekly-Times-Now
InternationalAgtech: What the Umbrella Term Really Means
August 10, 2017
Acclerator, incubator, start-up, connectivity — the buzzwords of the digital age can be clear as, well, mud, writes Alex Sampson Read More
Spray Drift
Data ManagementJanzen: Data to Play Key Role in Sorting Out Dicamba Di…
August 10, 2017
You would have to live under a rock to not have heard about farmers’ issues with dicamba this growing season. Read More
New-Zealand-Precision-Ag-Tour
InternationalNew Zealand Study Tour to Demonstrate Recent Advances i…
August 10, 2017
If you’re interested in an intense, week-long immersion in the use of high-tech products and practices in New Zealand agriculture, Read More
Data ManagementDuPont Acquires Ag Tech Startup Granular for $300 Milli…
August 9, 2017
DuPont announced that it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire San Francisco-based Granular, Inc., a provider of software and Read More
EventsSDSU Prof to lead Profit-Focused Panel at Upcoming Inno…
August 9, 2017
Convening a day prior to this summer’s Farm Progress Show at the I Hotel in Champaign, IL (about an hour’s Read More
AGCO White planter 9800VE
ProfessionalsAGCO Crop Tour 2017 Features Precision Planting Add-Ons
August 8, 2017
Higher yields and greater returns are the ultimate goals for crop producers. To help corn growers better understand the role Read More
Corn
Business ManagementCrop Pro Insurance Closes $8 Million in Series A Fundin…
August 8, 2017
Crop Pro Insurance today announced the close of an $8 million Series A round of financing co-led by top agriculture Read More
Agri-AFC-cotton-baler
Business ManagementBringing a Southern Sensibility to Precision Agricultur…
August 7, 2017
Amy Winstead considers herself blessed to have gotten in on the ground floor of precision ag adoption in the Southeast. Read More
Satshot imagery
Imagery/SensingImagery in Agriculture: Some Sage Advice
August 6, 2017
SatShot President Lanny Faleide has been a fixture on the remote imagery scene for as long as about anyone still Read More
Blue-River-See-Spray-technology
ProfessionalsHow Blue River’s See & Spray Technology Could Chang…
August 5, 2017
The blistering West Texas heat rocketing towards triple digits, the affable cotton grower trudged across his dusty field and approached Read More
Grower Services & Solutions2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part II
August 4, 2017
(EDITOR’S NOTE: This is Part II of Tim Norris’ Yield Monitor Calibration checklist, Part I of which was published in Read More
Sensors/IoT2017 Yield Monitor Calibration Checklist — Part I
August 4, 2017
With fall harvest a few weeks away for most of the country, ag service providers from every walk of life Read More