Unmanned Aerial Systems - Facts to Know in 2014

One of the most promising new agricultural technologies is the remote controlled Unmanned Aerial Systems (UAS). These systems offer farmers and operators the ability to monitor their crops in a quick and affordable way.

A great number of agricultural companies are currently investing millions in researching the full capabilities of UAS. Researchers will use infrared and thermal camera technology to measure the vegetative index of plants. This will allow for the detection of issues like disease, nitrogen deficiency, flooding, etc. The UAS technology is so promising universities around the country are developing programs so graduates can support this new industry.

System options

The consumer has two options when purchasing an UAS: a small helicopter with three to four rotors, also known as a quadcopter, or a small fixed wing airplane. The one you choose will depend on your mission and which system works best for that purpose. For general crop scouting the quadcopter works very well, is easy to use, and can be effortlessly deployed in a matter of minutes. The fixed wing solution is ideal for covering more acres. The fixed wing is primarily used for getting multi-spectral imagery over a larger area.

Future technology

The technology already exists to do almost all functions needed to “scout” and get imagery of fields. The next development—over the next year or two—will be the camera technology that is available. Camera designers are currently working to build a camera specifically for UAS. The advanced cameras will determine how effective UAS will be in agriculture. In the upcoming spring I will be doing independent testing of cameras and will be reporting back on my findings.

Rules and regulations

One of the major reasons I have become outspoken regarding UAS is due to the lack of knowledge about this topic, specifically the current Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations. If you are considering this application on your farm, it’s pivotal that you understand the rules that the FAA has set. There are steep penalties for those caught using these machines illegally—to the tune of $10,000.

From the FAA Model Aircraft Operating Standards: “FAA guidance says that model aircraft flights should be kept below 400 feet above ground level, should be flown a sufficient distance from populated areas and full size aircraft, and are not for business purposes.”

In layman terms: you must keep this aircraft away from airports, and you cannot use it to spy on your neighbors. Operators also cannot make money off soliciting services. The last point is the biggest issue that I foresee. I have already had farmers contact me trying to determine if companies contacting them with UAS services are legitimate or not. My answer is ABSOLUTELY NOT.

In the near future the FAA will be providing more information and guidance as to the use of UAS in agriculture.

Where to go from here

So where does this leave you on your farming operation? Get educated about the subject and understand the regulations. My hope is that consumers do research on their own so they fully understand what is involved in this new advancement in our industry.

 

Unmanned Aerial Systems Resources

Academy of Model Aeronautics: www.modelaircraft.org

National Model Aircraft Safety Code: www.modelaircraft.org/files/105.PDF

Ag Tech Talk Blog: www.agtechtalk.com