For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the drones manufactured by DJI, Parrot, Yuneec, and many others; however, most of these drones are geared towards recreational use and can’t meet the demands of commercial users. This is especially true in agriculture, where farmers and consultants need to cover large areas, operate in challenging environments, and require special sensors capable of detecting plant stress.
In the past, a potential buyer had to choose whether he or she wanted a multi-rotor or fixed-wing aircraft, as referenced in an article I wrote last year about drone technology in agriculture. This can be a tough choice, as each has its own merits and drawbacks.
For example, multi-rotor aircraft are more maneuverable, can take off and land in tight areas, and can often support larger payloads. However, a drawback of multi-rotor drones is limited battery life, which restricts the number of acres that can be flown in a single flight.
On the other side of the spectrum, fixed-wing aircraft have a much longer battery life, typically around an hour or more, and can cover more acres at once. However, they tend to be more expensive and need large, unobstructed areas for takeoff and landing.
Enter VTOL, or vertical takeoff and landing. This technology has been around for some time in full-sized military aircraft, such as the harrier and osprey used by the U.S. Marine Corps. It allows a fixed-wing aircraft to take off, hover, and land like a helicopter, and then transition into forward flight like an airplane, increasing the speed and range it’s capable of flying. The use of VTOL technology in UAVs is a new advancement and required a substantial amount of engineering and software development to enable smooth autonomous flight.
Wingtra, a drone manufacturer based in Zurich, Switzerland, leads the way in drone VTOL technology with its WingtraOne platform. We recently invited Wingtra to join us on RDO Equipment Co.’s Agriculture Technology Podcast to talk more about the WingtraOne. It looks like a typical fixed-wing UAV, and has all the positives such as a longer battery life and the ability to cover more acres. It can also take off and land like a multi-rotor drone, enabling it to land in tight places, such as near trees, buildings, or other obstacles.
The drone was specifically designed with surveying in mind, whether that be in the construction, mining, or agriculture industries. Operators simply need to select which camera payload they need. Cameras range from mirrorless interchangeable lens cameras, such as those produced by Sony, to the Micasense Rededge-M multispectral camera designed for use in agriculture.
The mirrorless cameras have high-resolution RGB sensors that are desirable for general surveying, 3D maps, and even applications like performing stand counts.
The Micasense Rededge-M camera is specifically designed for evaluating crop health and creating maps such as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) orthomosaics. You can listen to this episode of the Agriculture Technology Podcast to learn more about Micasense.
With the different spectral images to choose from, users can also choose between other orthomosaics, such as Normalized Difference Red Edge (NDRE), to better understand crop performance.
The use of VTOL technology in drones is the best of both worlds and simply makes sense for agriculture. As a Part 107-certified remote pilot myself, it has always been a struggle to decide which UAV is most appropriate for the job. I like the convenience and user-friendliness of using a quadcopter, like the DJI Phantom or Mavic, but often can’t reasonably cover the acres I need to fly. With a traditional fixed-wing UAV, while I’m able to cover hundreds of acres at a time, I am always concerned about a “crash landing” and damaging the airframe or wings.
The WingtraOne promises to be a solution for UAV pilots like me – pilots who need a reliable drone capable of covering acres, operating in challenging conditions, and producing great imagery in a user-friendly package.