Growing The Use Of Drones In Agriculture
3D Robotics is already conducting tests with farmers to understand user needs and test custom drones for agriculture. “Our approach is to make a product that fits into a farmer’s actual equipment,” says Brandon Basso, lead researcher at 3D Robotics. “We want them to use drones the same way that they use their other farming equipment.”
In the absence of data regarding use of drones in agriculture, 3D Robotics is working off educated guesses and formulating use cases. These guesses break down typical cost structures for farming to incentivize farmers to use drones.
As an example, Basso says farmers spray pesticides uniformly over their crop to protect them from fungal infections. “It is not environmentally great or financially great,” says Basso. According to him, the use of drones can mitigate some of these drawbacks. For example, farmers can choose to not spray pesticides based on an aerial survey of their crop using drones. Alternately, they can selectively spray pesticides only on plants that need attention, thus minimizing environmental damage and saving money.
Drones, which are fitted with payloads such as cameras, enable farmers to get a bird’s eye-view of their crop by flying at low altitudes. Using Infra-red imaging, drones can also detect which plants are sick and which ones are healthy. Basso says healthy plants reflect more infrared radiation, as opposed to plants which have fungal infections.
3D Robotics has deconstructed its tests into a series of stages that are closely linked to an actual drone operation.
During the Mission Planning stage, Basso and his team discuss objectives and goals of a particular flight mission. Subsequently, they spend time drawing out an automated flight path for the mission. This path enables them to map out the best coverage area for the flight. Flight times for drones can vary from less than ten minutes to approximately forty minutes flight time. This time is a function of payloads and rotors used in that particular drone. Basso says drones used for agricultural purposes have a longer flight time but are unable to carry much load. Images and data are processed using imaging software once drones return to their original takeoff point.