Daniel McKinnon from Agribotix shares some of the details behind an emerging field fusing robotics and agriculture.
Coming off the wildly successful 3DRobotics DroneCon and SparkFun Autonomous Vehicles Competition, a blog post on potential uses of UAVs or drones seems quite timely. While dozens of industries are rapidly adopting the commercial use of UAVs, many analysts have identified agriculture as the largest potential market. However, many unanswered questions remain as to specifically how a UAV would help a farmer’s bottom line. Agribotix has spent the last year beginning to answer these questions and, given our dedication to open source and publishing our progress, we thought it would be helpful to share our findings with the SparkFun community.
The first thing that we rapidly learned was that farmers want to become neither drone pilots nor imaging experts. They simply want actionable intelligence that enables them to make more educated on field decisions. While 3DRobotics and SparkFun aficionados (including the entire Agribotix team) really enjoy digging into the guts of the electronics and software that drives them, all but the most progressive, interested farmers want a simple solution that just provides them with some kind of valuable in-field intelligence. At the start of the season, we assumed this intelligence would be extremely high-resolution, very accurately georeferenced color and NDVI images of their fields, but this hypothesis has evolved considerably as we have gotten our product into the hands of more and more growers.
Our first big lesson (and the one that may be of the most interest to SparkFun readers) related to the airframe used to collect the images. Agribotix was born after its founders were hired by the Denver Zoo to develop a large quadcopter, which happened to be chock-full of SparkFun components, to assist in wildlife (specifically Cinereous Vulture) observation and capture. These origins, combined with the ease of launching and using a multirotor, substantially biased the Agribotix team towards that platform for agriculture. However, we rapidly learned that, due to a glide ratio of zero, rotary craft simply don’t have the endurance to survey a quarter section or quarter square mile field, which represents a hard minimum limit due to its ubiquity in modern agriculture.
Alan is serial entrepreneur, active angel investor, and a drone enthusiast. He co-founded DRONELIFE.com to address the emerging commercial market for drones and drone technology. Prior to DRONELIFE.com, Alan co-founded Where.com, ThinkingScreen Media, and Nurse.com. Recently, Alan has co-founded Crowditz.com, a leader in Equity Crowdfunding Data, Analytics, and Insights. Alan can be reached at alan(at)dronelife.com