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Business, STEM

A Drone May Be Coming To A Farm Near You

Source: Huffington Post
Source: Huffington Post

It’s Super Bowl Weekend. With all that is happening locally – the NFL Experience and lots of parties – my mind is focused on activities from a month ago around the holidays. Tickets to see The Interview were the most sought after Christmas gift followed by personal drones. Personal Drones? Yes – the non-military type.

Wasn’t it almost a year ago that Amazon.com proposed delivering packages from a fulfillment center to homes and businesses within a short flying distance? We don’t have to wait for Amazon.com to work thru the technical and regulatory details to make that happen. Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or drones are already being used for a variety of reasons here in the U.S.

In 9 totally cool uses for drones [Ref 1], the following commercial applications are cited:

      1. Real estate – capturing elevated images of high end property
      2. Sports photography – close-ups of extreme sports activities, e.g. skiing
      3. Highway monitoring –  inspecting roads and bridges, surveying with laser mapping, and alerting officials to traffic jams and accidents are just a few tasks that are listed
      4. Wildlife research – monitoring wildlife and inspecting habitat
      5. Atmospheric research – for measuring ozone in the stratosphere, as well as other gases and aerosols
      6. Hunting and anti-hunting – from finding wild hogs to using video cameras to spot illegal hunters
      7. Disaster relief – multiple applications from entering radioactive hot zones to searching for survivors in a pile of rubble
      8. Environmental compliance – from catching illegal dumpers to measuring air quality
      9. Journalism – students at the University of Missouri at Columbia are learning to use drones for information gathering tools with devices for video, photography, investigative reporting and more.

While the above are interesting applications of drone technology, my special interest in these high tech toys is farm related. This is partly tied to my volunteer work with the Future City CompetitionTM Arizona Region. Several posts have been added to this blog over the past three months about the competition’s theme and problem statement: feeding future cities. The other part is tied to my roots as a farm hand. I grew up on a farm that my family still owns today.

My personal research on the essay topic found that the current population of the world, 7.2 billion persons, is expected to grow to 9.6 billion by 2050. With little or no new land to farm, it is obvious that the way we farm today will need to change to feed this bulging human population. As I also discovered, farming and agricultural operations have been left out of the tech and IT boom until recently. This sector is just starting to catch up.

My probing moved in the direction of drones for agricultural use. My father has always had a herd of beef cattle until recently. He is older and doesn’t move as fast as he used to. My thoughts are that he could get him a drone and keep an eye on the herd, and find that wandering heifer that is bound to get out sooner or later.

Satellites, piloted planes and walking the field are the primary methods farmers use to monitor their crops. But these methods often can be incomplete or time consuming, and when data is collected it can take a long time to process and analyze. As a result, it can be difficult or impossible for the farmer to react to a problem … before it’s too late or the costs to treat it have soared. [Ref 2]

If my father were able to use this form of aerial surveillance, he could check on his herd immediately, and save himself time, transportation and travel costs. The UAV could also be used to steer the wandering heifer back towards the rest of the herd by hovering above the animal and incorporating a buzzing sound, horn, or my dad’s voice to help her along the way.

In fact, agricultural applications are seen as a new frontier for drone use. Many agriculture operations are large and span great distances. Their added value is that these large areas are free of privacy and safety concerns that plague UAVs in more heavily populated areas.

A trade group for UAVs predicts that agriculture operations could make up as much as 80% of the commercial drone market.

Source: Associated Press

Source: Associated Press

Earlier this week on Monday morning, January 26, 2015, a government employee breached the perimeter security of the White House by crashing his personal drone on the lawn. The Associated Press reported the object as a quadcopter – a commercially available drone with four propellers. It is believed that the drone was being flown for recreational use, and had nothing to do with the White House or any other governmental agency.

Oh by the way, the Super Bowl is a No Drone Zone. According to the FAA website, the government agency bars unauthorized aircraft – including drones – from flying over or near NFL regular- and post-season football games. I am guessing that this is true for any major sporting event, not just football.

Until the cows come home (or my next post) …

References

  1. Totally Cool Uses for Drones, by Marc Lallanilla, March 23, 2013, Live Science, http://www.livescience.com/28137-cool-uses-for-drones.html
  2. Growing use of drones poised to transform agriculture, by Christopher Doering, in USA Today, March 23, 2014
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About Vi Brown

Vi is principal and CEO of Prophecy Consulting Group, LLC, an Arizona firm that provides business and engineering services to private and public clients. Prior to establishing her consulting practice in 2001, Vi worked with Motorola, Maricopa County Government, Pacific Gas & Electric, CH2M Hill, and Procter & Gamble. As an adjunct faculty member, Vi teaches undergraduate calculus classes and graduate level environmental courses. She is also a professional speaker.

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