How Drone Technology Can Be Leveraged in Agriculture
It’s no mystery that agriculture technology, or AgTech, has the ability to impact the world for decades to come. With population growth growing at an increasing rate, maximized productivity and optimization of land space in agriculture are becoming especially important. This is where AgTech comes in.
Some advancements in the agriculture tech space include hyperspectral imaging, big data, and machine learning to help farmers make better decisions in crop management. However, what many people don’t know about is what drone technology can do in agriculture– talk about left-field! How will flying drones change agriculture? Let’s talk details.
With current advancements in drone technology, they’ve been able to decrease seed planting costs significantly. One startup, BioCarbon Engineering is making moves with drone technology in agriculture. Their current fleet of drones can plant up to 100,000 trees a day and no, there’s no extra 0 there. The way this works is that drones would fly 300+ feet above their designated zones to collect information on the site. Using this information, these drones would drop “seed pods” in areas that their seeds are most likely to flourish.
This method of seed planting is almost 10 times faster than humans planting trees by hand and can potentially decrease overall costs by half. Utilizing drones to begin new crops is especially beneficial in locations where it might be particularly difficult for farmers to plant seeds in. During extremely hot times of the year, using drones would be a great alternative to having to manually plant them.
By using a series of different distance-measure/imaging equipment like LiDAR, drones can effectively avoid obstacles during their flights. Initially, the way drones would navigate their surroundings would be through remote controls that needed to be navigated manually. I.e., if the drone pilot wasn’t careful, the drone could easily run into a tree and crash. However, with new technology, this is easily avoidable.
Tools like sensors that use ultrasonic echoing and LiDAR allow drones to avoid running into obstacles around them during flight. With that said, it’s now feasible for drones to fly at low enough altitudes to spray pesticides and target particular sections of a field to distribute it accordingly. By using drones rather than pesticide-spraying planes, farmers can now target exactly which crops need pesticides and how much needs to be sprayed while the drones actually spray them.
Overall Analysis of Crop Fields
Agriculture is one industry where the importance of big data isn’t emphasized enough. Using hyperspectral imaging technology, farmers can attain incredibly useful information that would help them maximize their operations. Depending on the imaging method, drones can help farmers do the following: assess crop health, spot fungal infections on trees, locate growth bottlenecks, locate poor irrigation, and gather general information on environmental conditions. With such a diverse range of actionable information available at a farmer’s disposal, they can make informed decisions based on concrete data. Rather than having to make guesses on what the landscape will look like in the future, farmers would instead be able to make predictions.
In factories or corporate buildings, it’s a lot easier to manage operations since everything is done within a fairly small vicinity. For farmers managing extremely large sections of land, things are completely different. Keeping track of every square meter of land simply wasn’t feasible in the past. Fortunately, drones help change that. Having eyes-in-the-sky proves to be an especially powerful tool for farmers who have trouble keeping track of different metrics. The ongoing monitoring that drones bring to the table help give farmers updated information on exactly what’s happening on their land.
Pros and Cons of Using Drones in Agriculture
The following table summarizes the advantages and disadvantages of using drones versus satellites for agricultural applications.
|Scalability||Scalable with a systematic monitoring of land on a large scale||Provide a limited way to scale the process, particularly for large industrial growers and large areas of land|
|Spatial resolution||Typically in the range of 20-50 cm/pixel||Ultra high, can be up to few cm/pixel|
|Temporal resolution and operational flexibility||Limited by the orbit coverage patterns of satellites – Unfavorable revisit times, satellite coverage is periodic||Very flexible – Imagery is available on demand – Short revisit time|
|Spectral resolution||Limited, lacks the spectral resolution required for many quantitative remote sensing applications||Narrowband hyperspectral imaging sensors|
|Minimum-area sale requirements||100’s to 1000’s sq. km need to be purchased per order||Not relevant|
|Costs||Typically from 0.01 to 0.5-1 USD per hectare per 1 data acquisition||From 0.5 to 5 USD per hectare per 1 data acquisition + transportation and accommodation costs of drone operator. Can be defined by a daily rate, i.e. 1000 USD per day.|
|Dependency on weather conditions||Vulnerable to any limitations on visibility (such as clouds)||Decreases dependence on weather conditions (such as clouds), as the operating altitude of a drone is below 500 m|
It’s only a matter of time until it’s an industry standard to integrate drones in agriculture. With the growing information age, the time is perfect for drones, coupled with imaging technology like hyperspectral imaging, to come in and disrupt the farming industry.