The three applications
Well for the past 18 months I have been asked to speak on a number of occasions about the use of unmanned systems in agriculture. My talks are largely informative (I hope) and I cover things like types of UAVs with agricultural potential, the NAS and FAA regs and a of course agricultural applications. The section of agricultural applications breaks down into three sections, scouting, mapping and aerial spraying. So far even though scouting using rotary wing systems is relatively new (about 24 months old) we have already learned a bit about what we can and cannot do, duration, image quality, stills vs video the importance of GPS meta data and where the issues are etc.
|A an image taken on a scouting mission using the Octane quadcopter.|
With regards to mapping we have been doing it since we started, at least that is what we thought. During 2013 I personally learned a lot about the limitations of aerial mapping using UAS and where it breaks down. The subject is very nuanced and very small details can introduce errors in the order of dozens of feet, which if you do not know where they are you can get some egg on your face with traditional photogrammetrists. This all made for very interesting presentations but when it came down to aerial spraying I dredged up the usual references to Yamaha's RMAX and the fact it has been in use for twenty plus years in Asia.
|RMAX in action|
If I felt like spicing things up a bit I would mentioned that there has only been one fatality using the system. Invariably at some point I would be asked when I thought we could expect to see the use of UAS for aerial spraying and my usual answer was maybe in ten to fifteen years maybe. Well that changed today when I saw this.
The Advanced Tactics' AT Transformer the worlds first "roadable" VSTOL UAS. This thing is just screaming turn me into a flying spraying systems. I am cutting my estimation. I now think that within 5 years you will probably start to see big green flying machines with a Deere logo rolling out of equipment sheds operated by farmers or maybe more likely a new breed of specialist applicators used in conjunction with small mapping systems with hyperspectral sensors. Map and process on day one and day two this beast arrives and puts down nitrogen only where its needed.