Drones in Ag?

Tanner Sheahan
CPS Tangent

The pro-drone organization AUVSI expects remote-controlled helicopters, like this Yamaha RMAX, to provide the biggest growth market for drones inside the United States. Photo: Flickr/timtak

A portion of the following article showed up on AgTalk, a forum for farmers and Ag enthusiasts, and was sent to us to share here on the blog. Thanks! Its a great topic. To our readers, feel free to send us recommended articles or links

I've included some excerpts from the main article. Follow the link to read the original on Wired.com.

Drone Boosters Say Farmers, Not Cops, Are the Biggest U.S. Robot Market
AUVSI intends to publish a study in the next few weeks anticipating the scope of the domestic, non-military market for drones. But there’s already some data to support Mailey’s hypothesis. “Precision farmers” love using data tools to increase crop yields. In 2009, an Idaho farmer homebrewed his own drone, slapped a commercial digital camera on it, and began extracting data on soil patterns to help his business expand. Companies like CropCam build lightweight, modular, GPS-driven gliders to give farmers an aerial view of their fields without requiring pilot training or the expense of buying a small manned plane. Of course, this is all dependent on drone manufacturers pricing their robots inexpensively enough for farmers who also have to buy a lot of other expensive equipment to ply their trade.
Local, state and federal police and homeland-security agencies had received 17 certificates of authorization for flying drones. Universities received 21 of them. “All those universities are focused on agriculture,” Mailey says.

Here's a really cool article from Western Australia about a quad-copter being used to eradicate an invasive tree species with precision applications of herbicide. Indie filmmakers use remote controlled choppers, like the CineStar 6 or 8 available from QuadCopter, with a three-axis stabilized gimbal to capture aerial shots on a budget. Here's an example of the video capture possible, notice the rotating shots which indicate the use of a gimbal to remotely rotate and change camera angle. One of the things we've learned is camera angle to the ground and adequate lighting is paramount in being able to capture a usable image of your field so the crop differences actually show up in the final image. Infrared imagery, which can gives you an NDVI reading, shows crop differences to a greater degree although outside the light spectrum visible to the human eye. There are ways to hack a DSLR camera so it will capture infrared but geo-referencing the captured images is still a limitation for the hobbyist. 

Here's a promo video of a Dutch sprayer system filmed using an OctoCopter as another example:

For those of you interested, the PNW chapter of AUVSI will be hosting The Pacific Northwest Unmanned Systems Conference: Command & Control Technology for Unmanned Systems in Seattle, WA this April. Who wants to go?