UAS: The S Stands For Smart, Service And Sensors

UAVs are full-scale autonomous systems now — and their overall potential in agriculture is stratospheric.
UAVs are full-scale autonomous systems now — and their overall potential in agriculture is stratospheric.

Disruptive technology is a term coined by a Harvard business professor to describe “a new technology that unexpectedly displaces an established technology.”

For the purpose of agriculture, Un­manned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) nearly qualify as such under that definition, although technically they will not be replacing a specific technology as much as they will be taking over crop scouting and monitoring duties from living, breathing human beings, whether by foot or by plane.

What’s more, these flying robots are now so sophisticated and so precise that we’re having to come up with new terms to refer to them by so as not to sell the intriguing technology short: what once were simply “drones” (Ugh!) have become “UAVs” and are now Unmanned Aerial Sys­tems (UAS) — because they are a whole lot more than what started as mostly carbon-fiber flying frames with a GoPro Camera bolted on. They truly are full-scale autonomous systems now — and their overall potential is stratospheric.

“I think from the hardware side of it things are already pretty well-optimized (with the technology) across brands,” says Lia Reich, media relations, Precision Hawk. “Right now, there’s a huge discrepancy between different models and the level of data they are able to obtain and process in a timely manner.

“I mean, you can go out to the field and throw up a UAV every day and get mountains upon mountains of data, but if it’s not the right data — and quality data — or if you can’t process it efficiently and smartly, it’s not going to make as much of an impact as it should.”

A Smart UAV?

What Reich refers to is perhaps the next differentiating point in the ongoing UAS evolution: The UAV vs. the smart UAS.

“A smart UAS should be an almost completely hands-off system, everything monitored autonomously in-flight and it has to be able to calculate all of the varying conditions and factors in real-time,” explains Reich. “It has to have a healthy level of artificial intelligence built into the platform, and that’s going to ensure only good, useable data is captured.”

Reich’s employer, Precision Hawk, currently offers The Lancaster, its fixed-wing UAS platform, for crop consultants and agronomists. Still in research and development mode here in the U.S. as the Federal Avia­tion Adminstration (FAA) slogs towards its 2015 integration mandate, a little regulatory adversity hasn’t stopped Precision Hawk from learning as much as it can about its target audience — the retail agronomist.

“This platform lends itself perfectly to crop consulting,” says Reich. “We hear the same request from nearly every ag retailer we talk to, no matter the size, and its ‘operational tempo.’ There’s got to be an efficient end-to-end process with a quick turnaround. There can’t be a lot of uploading/downloading in the field, everything has to be autonomous. These guys typically are looking for a turnaround time between flights of under five minutes.”

Precision Hawk is also working on a central database, or online community, for processing UAS-captured data, reports Reich.

“Precision Hawk is working on creating a collective community where growers or independent crop consultants can exchange algorithms to be run on agronomic data,” she says. “The way we envision it right now is as an ‘analysis library,’ or almost like an app store, for these valuable algorithms.”

May 2014 Cover.
May 2014 Cover.

UAS As A Service

Now that we’ve looked at one of the many seemingly cutting-edge UAV manufacturers out there, questions still remain. Chiefly, what will the implementation of UAVs in large scale agriculture look like? How will all of this come together a year from now? While no one can say entirely for sure just yet, there are quite a few folks out there looking to answer that very question.

Vision Services Group (VSG) Un­manned, a UAS service provider founded in Atlanta, GA, in 2013, believes the most practical approach for many retail agronomy departments is going to be contracting with a third-party company such as itself, to provide UAS as a service.

“Unmanned technology will transform the precision agriculture movement,” said Ben Worley, chief operating officer, during his presentation at the now annual Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) Atlanta conference.

“Expertise in this aspect of the agriculture industry will become essential, and companies who provide imaging and data management as a service will be particularly well suited to bring that expertise,” he says. “Every organization must look at the entire scope of the imagery acquisition and analysis process to determine the true cost and feasibility of maintaining an in-house aviation section vs. hiring an expert service provider.”

Not only that, says Worley, but there are other factors potential UAV technology adopters need to keep in mind as well.

“We have found in our use of UAVs overseas and in research, there are many challenges with UAS application,” he says. “First and foremost, I cannot overstate the need for preventative maintenance, and maintenance expertise enough, because you will crash your UAV. The question is, will you be able to fix it?”

As far as the benefits of engaging with VSG for your grower-customer’s aerial imaging needs, Worley says a team of fully-trained and licensed UAS experts will be more efficient, more accurate in the data they collect and more predictable.

“In an uncertain industry, working with an expert service provider creates some predictability around expenses,” he says. “There’s no unforeseen cost of repair, replacements or having to upgrade to the next model in a year.

“Not to mention, you get certified experts with thousands of hours of experience — and that experience means better data, better decisions. And you’ll never be tied down to just one platform; so you get the advantage of new technology without the cost of upgrading.”

High-Flying Sensors

As Worley stated at the beginning of his presentation, the end goal of applying UAS technology in agriculture is the acquisition and analysis of decision-enabling data. Further breakthroughs in the area of advanced sensor technology, by companies such as Swiss-based SenseFly, will be the means to an end in making that Worley’s goal a reality.

Enter SenseFly’s MultiSPEC 4C sensor, which is being offered as an add-on to the companies’ newest UAS model, the eBee Ag. SenseFly partnered with French outfit Airinov’s agronomy specialists on development of the sensor, which contains four separate 1.2 megapixel sensors electronically integrated within the eBee’s autopilot, providing image data over four highly precise light spectrum bands (Green, Red, Red Edge and Near-Infrared).

“What this sensor is measuring is the plant’s light reflectance,” says Xavier Jimenez, SenseFly R&D project manager. “What you want to see is a high level of reflectance in the near-infrared region — it’s something that is not visible to our naked eye so we don’t realize that healthy plants are actually quite bright in that spectrum.

“This region (of data) gives a lot of information on the density of the plant, its biomass, leaf area coverage, and overall health of the plant,” he concludes. “The greater the difference between near infrared reflectance and visible reflectance, the healthier the plants are.”

Along with the eBee, SenseFly’s  Postflight Terra 3D is included for image analysis and mosaic building, as well as 3D terrain modeling.

“The idea with the agriculture application (of Postflight Terra 3D) is that we can add an additional tool to the suite, giving the user the ability to compute  complex agronomic formulas based on the four band values, where typically you can only compute Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI),” says Jimenez.

SenseFly anticipates that Multi­SPEC 4C will be available for purchase in June.

Topics: ,

Leave a Reply

Precision Ag Stories

EquipmentAGCO Showcases White Planters 9800VE Series Planters AT NFMS
February 11, 2016
AGCO unveiled the new White Planters 9800VE Series planter during the 2016 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY. The Read More
EquipmentCase Unveils 2000 Series Early Riser Planter At NFMS
February 10, 2016
Case IH revealed the all-new 2000 Series Early Riser planter to media and attendees at the opening of the National Read More
The Tule ET sensor in wine grapes.
Precision AgTule Technologies: Monitoring Water Stress Can Unlock Potential
February 2, 2016
Although we mostly stick to the things we know around these parts (corn and beans), we’ve strayed from the traditional Read More
SST Analytics
Precision AgSST Analytics Helps Ag Retailers Navigate Down Economy
January 21, 2016
The next few years may be tough for ag retailers. High yields continue to depress grain prices while the global Read More
Top 100 Articles
Elburn Cooperative
CropLife 100Elburn Cooperative Members Vote To Join CHS
December 28, 2015
With 81% of eligible producers voting, 94% cast an affirmative ballot for Elburn Cooperative, a diversified agricultural retailer based out Read More
West Central Cooperative, Jefferson, IA
CropLife 100Farmers Cooperative-West Central Merger Approved
December 21, 2015
The members of Farmers Cooperative Co. (FC), Ames, IA, and West Central Cooperative, Ralston, IA, have both approved the merger Read More
Wheat Growers Innovation Center, Bath, SD
CropLife 100Wheat Growers Opens Innovation Center
December 21, 2015
Wheat Growers’ commitment in providing its farmer-owners with the latest in technological advancements now has a one-of-a-kind focal point, as Read More
CropLife 100ARA Selects The Andersons As 2015 Retailer Of The Year
December 9, 2015
The Agricultural Retailers Association today named Maumee, OH-based The Andersons as its Retailer of the Year for 2015. The award Read More
CPS Washington Court House John Deere Sprayer
CropLife 100Application Equipment Report: It Is Easy Being Green For Top 100 Ag Retailers
December 5, 2015
On The Muppets television show, Kermit the Frog is famous for singing a song about the troubles he encounters in Read More
Fertilizer Bin
CropLife 100Fertilizer Sales: Another Down Year For Top 100 Ag Retailers
December 4, 2015
In pure number terms, the fertilizer category still dominates all crop inputs/services among CropLife 100 ag retailers. In 2015, for Read More
Latest News
Crop Protection Products in storage
Crop InputsNewsweek: World Is ‘Awash In Glyphosate’
February 11, 2016
The world is awash in glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, produced by Monsanto. It has now become Read More
Crop InputsEPA: Let’s Talk Imidacloprid, Bees On February 18
February 11, 2016
EPA will hold an online technical briefing on its preliminary pollinator risk assessment for imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid insecticide, on Feb. Read More
ManagementThe latest on Syngenta-ChemChina Deal
February 11, 2016
Executive Editor Paul Schrimpf invites Jackie Pucci and Dave Frabotta from sister publication AgriBusiness Global to discuss the latest developments Read More
AdjuvantsUniversity of Illinois Confirms Adjuvant’s Perfor…
February 11, 2016
An independent University of Illinois study has shown that WETCIT adjuvant, now with TransPhloem technology, provides greater herbicide uptake and Read More
Crop InputsSyngenta’s Acuron Flexi Receives EPA Approval
February 11, 2016
Growers looking to control their toughest weeds with flexibility will have access to Acuron Flexi corn herbicide from Syngenta, now Read More
EquipmentAGCO Showcases White Planters 9800VE Series Planters AT…
February 11, 2016
AGCO unveiled the new White Planters 9800VE Series planter during the 2016 National Farm Machinery Show in Louisville, KY. The Read More
EquipmentCase Unveils 2000 Series Early Riser Planter At NFMS
February 10, 2016
Case IH revealed the all-new 2000 Series Early Riser planter to media and attendees at the opening of the National Read More
Syngenta Sign
Crop InputsSyngenta: Keep Ag In Mind During Election Season
February 10, 2016
As presidential candidates stake out their 2016 election platforms and key priorities, growers and their business partners should seek opportunities Read More
Crop InputsMarrone Bio Innovations Submits New Bio-Fungicide For E…
February 9, 2016
Marrone Bio Innovations, Inc. (MBI) today announced that it has submitted a new biological fungicide (MBI-110) to EPA. The broad spectrum Read More
Crop InputsWeed Expert: Adding A Second Herbicide Not Always Easy
February 9, 2016
In my last post, I reviewed some recent research that suggests one of the best ways to delay the evolution Read More
Crop InputsGenetic Literacy Project: Farmers Need More Herbicide C…
February 9, 2016
There are two things that I think just about every weed scientist can agree on, writes Andrew Kniss for The Read More
HerbicidesWeed Expert Warns North Dakota Growers Of Coming Herbic…
February 9, 2016
Ford Baldwin painted a bleak picture of weed control at a recent workshop here exploring the future of ag production, Read More
HerbicidesWSSA Announces New, Updated Free Web Resources
February 9, 2016
Today the Weed Science Society of American (WSSA) announced that new and updated educational materials for both weed scientists and Read More
Soybean field
FungicidesFour Arysta Fungicide Formulations Given FIFRA Approval…
February 8, 2016
Arysta LifeScience North America recently announced the issuance of Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) Section 2(ee) Recommendations for Read More
FungicidesAgri-Fos Systemic Fungicide Plus Receives EPA Registrat…
February 8, 2016
Vivid Life Sciences has announced the EPA registration of Agri-Fos Systemic Fungicide Plus, a highly concentrated active ingredient phosphite fungicide, Read More
Crop InputsBayer Contests EPA’s Decision On Valuable Insecticide F…
February 5, 2016
Crop Science, a division of Bayer, has announced it has refused a request by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Read More
Wheat Field North Dakota
Seed/BiotechSyngenta Wins Seed Fraud Suit Against South Dakota Grow…
February 5, 2016
Syngenta has obtained a $25,000 settlement from Paul and John Mayclin, Mayclin Farms, Plankinton, SD, in response to their Plant Read More
ManagementOABA Annual Conference Wraps Up In Columbus
February 5, 2016
More than 300 Ohio AgriBusiness Association (OABA) members and industry professionals were on hand to engage in collaborative learning and Read More