Exploring unmanned aerial vehicles for precision farming – Part 1

A whirlwind tour to Aeryon Labs, Inc. in Waterloo, Canada, provided a field demonstration of unmanned aerial vehicles for agricultural purposes.

Exploring unmanned aerial vehicles for precision farming – Part 1

A group of 10 farmers, four seed company representatives, four private consultants, two MAEAP technicians, two airline pilots and two Michigan State University advanced students took part in an educational tour to Aeryon Labs, Inc. in Waterloo, Canada, March 21, 2014, for a field demonstration on unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). The tour destination was Canada because Transport Canada provides a less regulated airspace environment for testing and developmenting UAV technology compared to the United States. Aeryon Labs is a state-of-the-art manufacturer of rotary-winged UAV types.

The group also met Steve Redmond, precision agriculture specialist, who is a leading proponent of this technology in Canada. Most of the discussions were centered on the capabilities of sensors, agronomic applications, ground verifications of data, certification of pilots, and privacy issues. The participants also witnessed the launch of the GPS-guided UAV Aeryon Scout unit from the outdoor parking lot and observed real time images on an iPad. Cameras gathered images with normal light, infrared or thermal, and video formats. Farmers can use this birds-eye view for precision farming. Current regulations only permit UAVs to fly under 400 feet and three miles away from airports.

Since there has been a huge interest in the use of UAVs for agricultural purposes, the United States Congress has directed the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to work with universities and the military to formulate clear and concise policies describing the integration of UAVs into U.S. airspace. Moving forward, the FAA would consider public safety to be the number one concern in this endeavor. Some major revisions to the existing regulations are expected in September 2014.

Sixty-eight percent of the participants indicated that they were more inclined to use UAV technology in the future as a result of this tour experience. Somewhat surprisingly, 14 percent indicated they have already signed up with UAV companies to use this technology in 2014. The participants indicated they will benefit from on-farm research and cost analyses towards adapting this technology. They listed cost, regulations and training time as some of the challenges for implementation.

For a slide show of the tour, please visit 2014 UAV Tour Video, or watch the YouTube video below. Partial funding for this tour was provided by Michigan State University Extension.

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