Aerial Imagery: Choose Your Own Adventure

The aerial imagery industry is in a rather strange place currently. Which of the three options (satellite, manned aircraft, or drone) is best for your situation will likely depend on who you ask (and who that person works for).

The satellite guys can point to their lower cost per acre and other benefits, the manned aircraft guys can continue to point out the efficiencies of scale gained by deploying aircraft-mounted sensors that cover hundreds of thousands (sometimes millions!) of acres in one flight, and the drone guys can boast about resolution superiority and the increasing ease-of-access to cheaper drone technology.

And all three of those claims wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. All three options certainly have their fit in different scenarios.

Drones Look to Find Fit

Still, as Illinois grower Steve Pit­stick recently opined at our annual PrecisionAg Innovation Series event held in Des Moines, IA, this is something guys digging deep into Big Data decision making need to figure out as soon as possible. “I have a feeling in-season imagery is going to be very important going forward. I haven’t figured out how to use it yet, but I feel it’s going to be very important.”

Aker, a Minnesota-based UAV imagery provider that has flown and imaged over 40,000 acres since its 2013 debut, is one of many drone service providers that stand to benefit from FAAs new more-accessible commercial UAV regulation, Part 107.

That said, we all know that a lack of quantifiable return-on-investment (ROI) is the main aspect holding back widespread adoption of drones. Aker itself, according to CEO and Co-Founder Orlando Saez, however is seeing good ROI from its directed scouting service.

“We use drones as a restaurant would use a stove, it’s just a tool like any other,” he explains. “There’s not a lot of tools out there directing people to where the high probability problem spots are in the field. We are powering ag retailers and suppliers with a tool that they can use to leverage the knowledge we provide, and match problems in the field with solutions in the form of crop inputs.”

Aker flies a mixed fleet of DJI quadcopters and senseFly eBees. It offers three sensor packages currently: RGB, Multi-spectral and thermal. Using the thermal sensor to produce soil temperature maps for variable rate prescription seeding is a somewhat new concept that is gaining acceptance in Aker’s operating territory, according to Saez.

“Thermal is a very powerful component; just about every cooperative relies on soil temperature maps to do variable rate prescription maps,” he says. “It’s all about water retention in the soil. Thermal gives you the correlation of soil type to water holding capacity, as well as a positive correlation to yield, so we can do a bare soil thermal assessment and come up with a direct correlation to yield.”

Satellite Scalability

Satshot President and CEO Lanny Faleide himself knows a thing or two about aerial imagery, and he believes what sets the Fargo, ND-based imagery provider apart from many of its detractors is the ability to scale up its image collection efforts at a moment’s notice.

“We run a very tight ship at Satshot,” he says. “We’re less than 10 people, and we can cover the globe because we’ve built fully automatic systems. That’s the power that we can bring to the precision ag sector. We can get you data.”

Satshot got its start working with LANDSAT imagery way back in 1998, and Faleide says for the past three years the company has been tasking Planet Labs satellites and, most recently, those of an unnamed provider out of Asia that “is floating one meter imagery.”

“Everything is complimentary,” he explains. “I can shoot satellites at times where airplanes probably can’t and drones definitely can’t. If there’s 40-50 mph winds and clear skies, I’m going to shoot 300 million acres that day. It’s a logistics game, it has nothing to do with the technology.”

Faleide describes Satshot’s go-to-market strategy as “On demand imaging — we task satellites to capture certain areas/footprints. We task lower resolution satellites in a large sequence and our customers can go in and have an image almost immediately. Our goal is to have an image of your field available every week in our Landscout mobile app.”

Manned Aircraft Advantages

Meanwhile, Kevin Spry is the VP of Operations for GeoG2 Solutions, a manned-aircraft NDVI imagery provider stationed at Moffet Field, a joint civil-military airfield located in Sunnyvale, CA, owned and operated by NASA’s Ames Research Center.

Spry got his start in remote sensing in agriculture way back in 1995, and he says GeoG2 “covers 11 million to 12 million acres in California every 28 days in the growing season with manned aircraft — high performance twin engine turbo prop planes, to be exact.”

Spry believes drones, while having their fit for niche situations like on-farm field inspections or gathering imagery on small test plots, are “a fad, just like the big satellites were.”

“When space imaging was launched in 1996 we tried to get one set of images over the Salinas Valley, but because of how the Valley sat and the flight path (of the satellite) it took 26 individual images, and they could not collect those 26 images within the year because of cloud cover or too much sun. In a plane I can fly that in two minutes. We concentrate on high performance airplanes, we get up high, fly fast (25,000 feet at 250 knots), and we can collect data on almost six million acres in a seven hour day.”

Spry also takes issue with the cost of doing business in the micro-satellite space.

“And you’ve got the satellites, you’ve got the RapidEyes — that’s a $500 million dollar program that eventually sold for $18 million, so the economics of that probably didn’t work out,” he reasons. “When you put a satellite system up, they’ve already spent the $500 million to get the thing built and launched, then you never have enough time to develop the market to make that money back.”

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Data Stories
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota High Tech Association
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Success
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
Trending Articles
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To Enhance VRT Programs
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secrets
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Farmers
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
BusinessTrimble Launches New FMIS Platform
November 7, 2016
Trimble announced today that it is consolidating three of its agriculture software products — Connected Farm, Farm Works Software and Read More
Latest News
AgBot16 Challenge
Hort TechUSDA Announces $3 Million For Agricultural Robotics Res…
December 8, 2016
The USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) has announced the availability of $3 million in available funding for Read More
BASF Maglis Grower Tablet
Business ManagementPrecision Farming Forecast: 4 Challenges, Opportunities…
December 7, 2016
Opportunities and challenges. They are the yin and yang of the business world. It could easily be argued that, out Read More
GVM E-Series cab
Ag Tech GlobalGlobalization And Precision Agriculture
December 7, 2016
Globalization has taken on a negative connotation in some circles in the U.S. in recent months. The lightning rod for Read More
Buhler Versatile HQ cab
BusinessThe State Of Precision Ag In 2016
December 7, 2016
There’s no denying that precision technologies and practices are more vibrant than ever. Elsewhere on this site, you will find Read More
BusinessFarmobile Details New AGCO Distribution Deal
December 6, 2016
Farmobile today announced a strategic partnership with AGCO, a worldwide manufacturer and distributor of agricultural equipment. The agreement will allow Read More
Hort TechSol Chip Launches Autonomous, Wireless Solar Tag for Sm…
December 6, 2016
Sol Chip, a provider of Internet of Things (IoT) systems and energy harvesting solutions, today announced the introduction of its Read More
TechnologyAgGateway Announces 2017 Board Of Directors And Leaders…
December 2, 2016
AgGateway has announced its leadership for the coming year, including the directors of its new Strategic Board and Operational Board, Read More
DataSentera Honored With Startup Award Of 2016 By Minnesota…
December 1, 2016
The Minnesota High Tech Association (MHTA) recently recognized Sentera as the 2016 Tekne Startup Award recipient. The MHTA Tekne Awards Read More
AGCO AgControl
TechnologyPrecision Ag Technology: Rate Control For The Times
December 1, 2016
It’s not surprising that the need for more economical, effective application is driving the demand for the latest rate controllers Read More
Farmers Edge Truck
DataFarmers Edge, Trotter Fertilizer Form Partnership To En…
November 29, 2016
Farmers Edge, a global leader in precision agriculture and independent data management solutions, has partnered with Trotter Fertilizer, Nebraska’s foremost Read More
Fall corn
BusinessInsecticide of the Future? Robotic Tanks With Lasers to…
November 22, 2016
*Article Notes: This monthly column takes some crazy sounding ideas and applies them to the field of Ag Tech. The Read More
Topcon X30 Console in cab
Sensors/IoTIoT The Focus Of New Topcon Partnership
November 22, 2016
Topcon Agriculture and SDF plan to enter into a non-exclusive long-term partnership agreement. This latest arrangement of Topcon with a Read More
Kinze 4900 Multi-Hybrid Concept Planter
Business ManagementKinze Fights Deere, Feds To Block Release Of Trade Secr…
November 22, 2016
An antitrust lawsuit intended to block a small-scale deal between agricultural giants John Deere and Monsanto is putting an Iowa Read More
BusinessClimate Corp. Acquires European FMIS Company
November 21, 2016
Today, The Climate Corp., a subsidiary of Monsanto Co., announced the acquisition of VitalFields, a European farm management software company Read More
BusinessFarmobile Releases Mobile Data Visualization Dashboard
November 17, 2016
Farmobile today announced an EFR Dashboard, a real-time dashboard that helps farmers visualize their field data and derive insights to Read More
Southern States
Best PracticesSouthern States: 5 Tips for Variable-Rate Seeding Succe…
November 15, 2016
Success comes from taking advantage of every opportunity you can. One technique used in precision farming, called variable rate seeding, Read More
USDA UAV
Hort TechHigh-Tech Agriculture Continues To Reap Rewards For Far…
November 11, 2016
Just like a smartphone helps users learn, communicate and make important decisions, smart technology — known as precision agriculture — Read More
THRIVE
BusinessCall For Ag Tech Startups: Apply To THRIVE’s Open…
November 10, 2016
THRIVE is looking for high growth ag tech companies with an in-market solution that are positioned to scale. The top 50 Read More