Agriculture reaching new heights

The original meaning of drone, that of a male honey bee who exists for the procreation and elongation of the queen’s lineage, interestingly enough stems from Old English. Adoption of the word drone as a synonym for Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) is based in an amusing story from 1935, featuring US Admiral William H. Standley:

“Standley saw a British demonstration of the Royal Navy’s new remote-control aircraft for target practice, the DH 82B Queen Bee. Back stateside, Standley charged Commander Delmer Fahrney with developing something similar for the Navy. “Fahrney adopted the name ‘drone’ to refer to these aircraft in homage to the Queen Bee,” Mr. Zaloga wrote.” WSJ

Anyway, enough of the entomologous etymology, here are some fantastic videos made possible with quadcopters. I’ll give you a run down on how it’s all related to agriculture after you’re done feasting on these incredible videos.

The recent sky-high popularity of drones has resulted in some incredible photography and videography opportunities of Australian landscapes like this one from The Great Ocean Road:

Or the sci-fi, straight outta the future drone racing with similarities to Star Wars space battles:

Or one of my favourites – drones and fireworks…

Like peas and carrots…peas and carrots.

Drones have created a number of political and policy issues, with Australia only set to update laws made in 1998 in September this year. A slightly different take, with a more Republican basis:

http://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/microdrones.png

 

So how does agriculture fit into this I hear you say? Well, drones offer farmers an ideal platform to very rapidly monitor paddocks implementing a range of different cameras . And what benefits can farmers get out of this?

Aside from a fantastic way to justify spending farm money on incredibly fun pieces of equipment, drones are revolutionising crop and livestock management in three key areas (number 3 will surprise you!).

  1. Crop monitoring – using various thermal (measuring temperature), multispectral (the camera can detect multiple wavelengths of light e.g. infrared, red, green, blue, UV) and hyperspectral (imaging cutting the pie of useable wavelengths into hair-width size pieces – very data intensive but great for disease detection). An example: Farmer flies drone over paddock to detect nutrient stress levels – finds the plants are on average doing well and holds off applying fertiliser. They can also map disease prevalence, biomass and predict yield across the paddock to tailor farm inputs to each individual area! How neat is that.
  2. Irrigation – thermal cameras mounted on drones are currently used to fly out over crops and check on canopy temperature. Basically, the canopy temperature of water stressed plants is higher due to a loss of the evaporative cooling effect of water leaving the leaves. Using this data, irrigation is scheduled based on crop stress levels.
  3. Crop spraying – imagine an army of drones flying out over the paddock, each covering a small area before returning to the docking station and refilling. Large areas could be covered with a whole swarm. This apparently futuristic idea is futuristic no more, with Andrew Bate in Queensland recently launching a pair of ground-based autonomous sprayers. Further, drones capable of spraying already exist such as the DJI AGRAS MG-1. These can cover 1ha over the duration of the flight and with the correct programming and refill point would be able to act in a swarm. Super neat! Drones also offer the ability to map weeds in the paddock so that spray application is targeted rather than uniform. This would reduce the economic and environmental cost of herbicides.

To conclude, whilst drones may be small and perceived as either killing machines in warzones or as playthings in peaceful countries, they represent an incredible opportunity to the Australian Agricultural Industry. Increasing productivity all the while reducing environmental impact and costs. I’ll leave you with a few videos of drones in ag.

Until next time,

Guy

 

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