(Source: JS Online)
Operating a small aerial drone over hundreds of acres of corn, Zach Fiene can receive detailed pictures of the crop on his iPad.
From the images, or a live video, he can see exactly what parts of a field are struggling with plant disease, insects or a lack of water. In a matter of minutes, he can gather as much information as someone could get in several hours walking through the field.
“You can basically point the camera to where you want it to go,” said Fiene, co-owner of DMZ Aerial in Prairie du Sac and Whitewater.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, a trade group, says agriculture could account for 80% of all commercial drone use as the technology matures and gains acceptance from farmers.
Small and affordable aerial drones can gather information about crops that helps farmers apply pesticides and fertilizers precisely where the chemicals are needed. That saves farmers money in chemical costs, and it’s better for the environment.
With advancements in technology, 3-D images and thermal readings from aerial observations could be tied with other data to give farmers even more information about growing conditions.
On foot, it can take hours to “scout” a field, and you can still miss something, according to Fiene, a crops scout by training.
“You might walk past a problem area, not see it, and three weeks later the corn is dead because disease has spread,” he said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is crafting rules that would allow aerial drones to be used regularly for business while setting safety standards.
Some aviation professionals, such as crop duster pilots, have concerns about small drones because of the risk of midair collisions.
“We can’t see them,” Andrew Moore of the National Agricultural Aviation Association told an Associated Press reporter this summer.
Moore’s group has advocated for lights and tracking systems on aerial drones to help airplane pilots spot them.
“Every time there’s a report of a drone almost hitting a plane, that’s not good for us because the regulations aren’t finalized yet,” Fiene said.
There are privacy issues, too, and questions about who owns the data gathered from a drone flying over someone’s property.
“Nothing is really private anymore, from the air. I have told farmers to look up their address on Google Earth, and they would be amazed at the pictures out there,” said Casey Langan, spokesman for the Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation.
This year, the FAA has approved dozens of exemptions for agricultural aerial-drone businesses, allowing the fledgling technology to gain acceptance in the marketplace.
“There’s huge potential for it, not just in our area but all over the world,” said Chris Hibben, CEO of Snap 180 Media, an aerial photography and video firm in Oshkosh.
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