Farmers and specialists in agriculture are looking for new ways to increase yields and reduce crop damage – UAVs are looking to be the cheapest and most effective way to do this.
The benefits of UAVs for farmers and the agriculture industry are becoming clearer and more logical as more successful cases are presented. Miniature fixed-wing airplanes or, more commonly, quadcopters and other multibladed small helicopters will soon become a common feature of long rolling fields filled with crops.
But how can UAVs increase yields and reduce crop damage?
- Software plans the flight path of UAVs, aiming for maximum coverage of fields, and controls the camera to optimize the images for later analysis
- The low-altitude view from the UAV gives a perspective that farmers have rarely had before, offering a much cheaper solution with higher resolution
- Because images are recorded under clouds, they are unobstructed and always available
- It’s much cheaper than crop imaging with a manned aircraft, which can run for around $1,000 an hour. Farmers can buy UAVs outright for less than $1,000 each
There are three types of detailed views that can help farmers in their operations:
- Seeing a crop from the air can reveal patterns that expose everything from irrigation problems to soil variation and even pest infestations that aren’t clear at eye level
- Airborne cameras can take multispectral images, capturing data from the infrared as well as the visual spectrum. These can be combined to create a view of the crop that highlights differences between healthy and distressed plants
- Unlike humans, UAVs can survey a crop every week, every day or every hour. Combining the images to create a time-series animation, imagery can then show changes in the crop that might show trouble spots or opportunities for better crop management
Advances in technology such as tiny MEMS sensors, small GPS modules and incredibly powerful processors are now getting better and cheaper much more quickly thanks to their use in smartphones and the economies of scale in that industry.
By 2050 it’s expected that around 9.6bn people will populate the planet – and they will all need feeding. If the use of UAVs can assist in lowering costs and increasing efficiency by, for example, assessing water content of soil and becoming more rigorous in the ability to spot irrigation and pest problems, the challenges ahead may be easier to overcome.
It’s clear that the industry is moving quickly towards data driven agriculture.