Perspective: Could Amazon’s Folly Kill UAVs For Ag?

It’s something I’ve been saying for at least the past year, starting about the time we were in the early planning stages of the InfoAg Conference that took place in July of this year. That was December 2012, and one of the big topics that almost everyone wanted us to cover was unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or the more popular and much less flattering term, drones.

The term “drone” has become synonymous with military nastiness such as bombs, terrorism, and invasion of privacy, and any association it has with agriculture’s vision for UAV use is unfortunate and not constructive to the discussion, but that’s a discussion for another day.

In any event, about that same time we were hearing about Domino’s Pizza and rumors of its desire to deliver its pies via drones to consumers. This set me off on an angry tirade, ending with me making the prediction, “you just know that some overzealous company is going to take UAV technology just a little too far, and that will be it. With no ability to adequately regulate UAV use, the government will shut the door on it entirely.”

So six months after the InfoAg Conference, we get Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on the television news show 60 Minutes talking about delivering packages via a fleet of drones. Which led me to revisit my tirade: someone, or some business, is going to screw this UAV thing up for all of us.

I understand that on its face it’s a brilliant notion. Fewer packages in trucks mean fewer trucks on the road and less pollution. Consumers get packages faster. As fast business today runs and as overworked and harried as we are now, we could take things up yet another notch, right?

Anyway, it took about 30 seconds for the reaction to Amazon’s plan to come to a boil on every media outlet across every platform. Could drones collect georeferenced data linked to individual consumers on its flights across neighborhoods en route to delivering packages? Sure it could. Could an octocopter with a 20 pound payload fall from the sky on Johnny’s head at the playground? Absolutely. Could a terrorist paint a smiley face on a drone with an unhappy payload of something deadly or explosive? You could see it happening. Would “skeet shooting” supplant baseball as America’s favorite pastime? Possibly.

I’m here at the Ag Retailers Association Conference this week, and a gentleman from the FBI anti-terrorism inspection team got into a discussion about Amazon’s plan. His one sentence response: “They’re going to put the kibosh on this pretty quick.”

The Federal Aviation Administration is currently working through the process of creating regulations on UAVs, a process that is set to conclude with a clear set of rules by 2015 at very soonest. And my biggest fear in this process is that they will throw the baby out with the bathwater … which to me is wholly unnecessary.

In agriculture, there are some very useful and valuable applications that UAVs can perform, and we’re actually pretty darned advanced on this front. In Canada, where they’ve figured some things out when it comes to commercial UAV use, it’s working pretty well. We can do it here, too.

Let’s hope cooler heads prevail, and we can keep making progress on UAV use in agriculture. Well-intentioned but overreaching plans that endanger the productive use of UAVs could kill a technology with great promise for improved field scouting and more accurate and timely pest control, among many other potential benefits.

Leave a Reply

6 comments on “Perspective: Could Amazon’s Folly Kill UAVs For Ag?

  1. While I agree with most everything that Paul mentions in his well written article, I suspect that most people realize that Amazon was simply creating a media blitz to build brand awareness just prior to the holiday buying frenzy.

    Agricultural robotic aircraft manufactures like AgEagle based in Neodesha, KS is making headway to mainstream the use of UAS/UAV’s in agricultural. This is being done by first creating a UAS that is totally focused on agriculture, safe, robust and simple to operate. AgEagle is not interested in delivering pizza’s, taco’s, chasing endangered animals or even search and rescue. If the application of an AgEagle is not farm or agricultural related, the company is not interested in pursing it.

    The agricultural industry is eager to adapt robotic aircraft because they understand the significant benefits of NDVI aerial images and prescription maps through reduced input costs and increased yields.

    As stated in many previous blogs and post, the use of robotic aircraft in agriculture is the simplest, safest use of the technology and represents a high degree of return.

    The use of robotic aircraft (UAS / UAV / drones) in agriculture will become mainstream this summer as many users begin realizing the benefits of AgEagle systems on their farms this coming spring. A backlog of orders are being manufactured this winter to fill the pent-up demand by early adaptors. So, this spring there will be many farmers flying robotic aircraft over their own land.

    The daily use of robotic aircraft by farmers and demonstrating their safety will go a long way to win the publics acceptance of UAS/UAV’s and soon the commercial applications.

    The public relations stunt created by Jeff Bezos may actually help agriculture by demonstrating a practical use of UAS/UAV’s to the public rather than their perception of their use in the military.

  2. I think there’s room for coexistence here with what Amazon’s doing and for ag usage as well; they’re two quite different uses of the technology. Passenger automobiles aren’t subject to the same set of rules and regulations as 18 wheelers just because they use the same road. The collision avoidance technolgy the FAA wants for urban areas is going to be necessary for Amazon’s implementation (and puts them out at least 5 years to go-live). For a grower operating on thier own land within a line-of-sight, this is a non-issue.

  3. Flying a UAV over public property, or other people’s personal property sounds like a very different legal situation than flying it within the confines a one’s own land.

  4. I agree that there COULD be room for both, if public and media focus on “delivery drones” doesn’t lead to outrage/panic about privacy and safety issues. When that happens, the temptation is to either kick the can down the road until companies give up, or simply apply the sledgehammer and kill it altogether. It makes me think about the early trial balloons floated about RFID technology, and how quickly its use got shoved under the table.

    If the FAA puts in the effort it can sort it out and make reasonable rules. Dare I say that agricultural uses could get fast tracked while the ‘urban’ plan gets sorted out?

  5. I greatly appreciate Paul’s article. Commercial UAV use is at the forefront of many businesses and industries, especially agriculture. I do believe that cooler heads will prevail, but agriculture needs to do its part by promoting the use, creating proactive resolutions for organizations, and contacting our federal elected officials.

    My thoughts are that the Amazon story will not hurt UAV commercialization and here is why. Agriculture will be the first industry to use it and more than likely forestry will be there as well. What the Amazon story did do is bring to the front other uses of UAVs besides military.

    What is happening in the general population is a fear created by the media using the term drone, just like they continually use assault rifle and point blank range for firearms. Their job is to sell papers and they do that through sensational headlines. Those headlines along with all of the stories about military use has created a vision of killing.

    At this point in time there are many different things happening in the world of UAVs and most of it is positive. The FAA will be announcing the winners of the six UAV Centers of Excellence by the end of the month. There were 25 states that had applications accepted so there is a 25% chance of winning. A UAV MegaMillions so to speak.

    And yes it will be MegaMillions. The winning states will be able to not only start building UAVs, but it will bring software writers and companies building payloads to the state as well. The jobs created will give these states an economic boost, with many looking at industries outside of agriculture.

    While I do agree we need to proceed cautiously and respectfully in agriculture there will always be those that have visions in their industry as well. However, vision and reality do clash sometimes and with today’s current technology, Jeff Bezos’ vision of UAV delivering packages is not realistic.

    Again, things are moving very fast in the world of UAVs and there area few things that I am privy of that would help clear things up a bit. In the mean time, we need people like Paul Schrimpf and publications like PrecisionAg getting the word out and helping to nudge UAVs into a positive direction. Thanks Paul for an article that really made me think about the UAV industry.

Data Management Stories
AmericasFarmers Edge Announces New Retail-Facing Precision Ag Platform
September 25, 2018
Farmers Edge announced the launch of a new solution designed exclusively for agricultural professionals to enhance their relationships with customers Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More
Trending Articles
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower-Retailer
Imagery/SensingAgtech: 10 Things I Hate About You!
September 4, 2018
Before you get bent out of shape from the title, remember if you’ve read my articles before you know I Read More
Kansas State University
Industry NewsKansas State University, Topcon Form Precision Ag Research Partnership
August 30, 2018
Kansas State University and Topcon Agriculture are collaborating to develop tools and systems to advance precision agriculture and support farmers. Read More
Blockchain building block graphic
Specialty CropsIs Blockchain the Future of Food Safety?
August 24, 2018
When the Internet Protocol Suite (TCP/IP) was standardized in 1982, permitting the worldwide proliferation of interconnected networks and eventually the Read More
WinField’s Joel Wipperfurth On Empowering Data-Driven Decisions
InfoAg ConferenceOne on One with Joel Wipperfurth, Winfield United
August 15, 2018
Winfield United's Joel Wipperfurth discusses ag technology trends and topics during last month’s InfoAg Conference. Read More
Geosys
Industry NewsUrtheCast to Acquire Geosys from Land O’Lakes in $20 Million Deal
August 15, 2018
UrtheCast Corp. and Land O’Lakes, Inc. today announced they have entered a binding term sheet for the purchase of Geosys Read More
Latest News
AmericasFarmers Edge Announces New Retail-Facing Precision Ag P…
September 25, 2018
Farmers Edge announced the launch of a new solution designed exclusively for agricultural professionals to enhance their relationships with customers Read More
FIRA
EventsAgricultural Robotics Take Center Stage at FIRA 2018
September 24, 2018
The future of agricultural innovation will continue to rely heavily on collaboration and exchange of ideas among all industry players. Read More
Corn field sunset
Decision Support SoftwareLand O’Lakes SUSTAIN Launches Ambitious Digital S…
September 24, 2018
Land O’Lakes SUSTAIN today announced its plan to roll out the Truterra Insights Engine, an interactive on-farm digital platform that Read More
Business ManagementIvy Tech, Farmers Partner to Help Precision Ag Educatio…
September 20, 2018
Harvest time has taken on a new meaning for some Wabash Valley farmers, and Bobbi Hunt-Kincaid hopes her family’s first Read More
Sensors
Sensors/IoTThe Answer to Agriculture’s Daunting Challenges – Soil …
September 20, 2018
According to the United Nations, 9.6 billion people will live on planet Earth by 2050. Feeding these mouths will require Read More
Google-Earth-Map-featured-image
Data ManagementRainfall Revisited: Accurate Observations and Beyond
September 18, 2018
As a provider of weather analysis and forecast services to the agricultural industry, one of the most common questions I Read More
PenelopeNagel
Business ManagementWhy Is Funding a Challenge for Women-Led Agtech Compani…
September 17, 2018
When it comes to women-led agtech companies the funding discussion never seems to cease. In June after the The New Read More
Mobile Phone in field
Decision Support SoftwareWhy Are 570 Million Farmers Not Yet Using Agricultural …
September 17, 2018
Until recently, using agricultural apps and software was a rare practice among growers. This is now changing. The mass adoption Read More
Soil-Hand
Data ManagementAre You Using Your Soil to Its Full Potential?
September 14, 2018
Harvest is progressing across most parts of the U.S. and those growers who aren’t already harvesting are gearing up to Read More
Grower Services & SolutionsDeere-Granular Collaboration Produces New Profit Maps T…
September 14, 2018
The newest development from the ongoing John Deere-Granular product development and marketing collaboration is Profit Maps, now available to farmers Read More
Wingtra
DronesOpinion: Combining Two Pluses with the WingtraOne UAV
September 13, 2018
For the every-day consumer interested in UAVs, there is an ocean of products from which to choose. This includes the Read More
Farmer-tablet
AsiaShould Agri-Input Manufacturers Outsource E-Commerce to…
September 12, 2018
Editor’s note: Venky Ramachandran is a contributing writer for PrecisionAg.com’s sister site, AgriBusinessGlobal.com. This article was originally published on LinkedIn. Now, Read More
ICON-Link-Licensing_featured-image
Industry NewsValley Irrigation Adds Remote Irrigation Management Opt…
September 11, 2018
Valley Irrigation, an industry leader in smart irrigation solutions, has announced enhancements to its remote management technologies. Multi-Year Licensing In Read More
Reflex-Connect-Agri-Inject-featured-image
Variable Rate ApplicationVariable Rate Fertigation System Expands with Mobile Co…
September 10, 2018
Building on the success of its Reflex Variable Rate Fertigation system, Agri-Inject has taken fluid injection to the next level Read More
Industry NewsTeralytic Earns Ag Data Transparent Certification
September 10, 2018
Soil analytics company Teralytic has completed the Ag Data Transparent certification, affirming that their data use is private, secure, and Read More
Business ManagementTop 20 Two-Year Colleges for Precision Agriculture
September 10, 2018
Earlier this year, I compiled a list of the 25 best colleges for precision agriculture. It was quite the process. Read More
Industry NewsRaven, Topcon Announce Slingshot API Agreement
September 6, 2018
Raven Industries and Topcon Agriculture announced today a licensing agreement for Topcon Agriculture’s use of the Slingshot Application Programming Interface Read More
Tablet Grower
Data ManagementThe Power of Predictive Analytics in Agriculture
September 5, 2018
Years ago if we would have been told computers, data, and technology would be scattered around every farm there may Read More