The effective use of drones in agriculture is one of the most obvious applications of computer vision technologies. Fascinating breakthroughs in the computer vision algorithms multiplied by the climate change dangers have made drones a must for modern agriculture enterprises. In this post, we will shed light on why the use of drones in agriculture is a smart investment at the moment and – even more importantly – in the long run too. We will also mention the potential agricultural challenges where drones can be specifically important. So, keep on reading to learn about the origin of drones, their pros, and cons, as well as the use of drones in farming.
Key Definitions and Advantages
Defining a Drone
To understand how one can make use of drones in agriculture, it is essential to know what a drone is. The term a drone was first mentioned in the 1920s in reference to flying devices without a pilot used for training the military. Today, a drone is a general term for a large amount of diverse unmanned aerial vehicles, aka UAVs. (NB: There are many other terms that are used to describe a drone like a remotely piloted aerial vehicle).
Though there is no terminological consistency when it comes to drones, one thing is certain – these relatively small flying devices have the outstanding potential. As John P. Rafferty elegantly puts it in his Drones: New Frontiers in Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, drones managed to capture the imagination of both entrepreneurs and governmental agencies within the last couple of years. In other words, drones can and should be used not only for military purposes but in many other fields, including agriculture.
There are many types of drones, with the size and a number of propellers being the differentiating factors. One can choose between nano, small, medium and large drones. There is also a difference between multirotor and fixed-wing drones. So which drone would be the perfect choice for farming? Well, the use of drones in agriculture boils down to the function you want these devices to perform. Bigger fixed-wing drones are generally faster and have higher payload capacity so they can be used for spraying purposes. Smaller multirotor drones have limitations in terms of speed and flight duration but are great when it comes to monitoring tasks.
Use of Drones in Agriculture – Five Benefits
What makes the use of drones in agriculture possible? Here is the list of the six key advantages that help drones in farming stand out among other devices applied in agriculture.
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The maximum weight of a drone is about 200 kg or 440 lbs. The minimum is less than 1 kg for nano drones. This is nothing in comparison to helicopters that are traditionally used for agricultural purposes. For an agricultural drone, the average weight could vary depending on how you apply it. For instance, you may need to decide whether you are going to use a drone for purely monitoring purposes or you want it to perform spraying. The bottom line is that the small size of drones means less storage place, a lower price, better maneuvers, and effective maintenance
Real-time data processing
Like any other computer vision device, a drone minimizes the risks connected with human factors. The level of precision of drone’s findings is considerably higher in comparison to information gathered manually. The accuracy of drones also results from the amount of data these devices are able to collect within the limited time span. Also, drones fly relatively low thus providing better and more detailed images than conventional techniques for data collection in agriculture, e.g. satellites.
In general, drones are autonomous devices, either remotely controlled by human operators or onboard computing systems. In layman’s terms, agricultural drones are ready to work around-the-clock. Their schedule does not need to depend on any time limitations, like working hours, bank holidays, or vacations.
The cost of the use of drones in agriculture is much lower in contrast to the cost of manual work or the prices of traditional aircraft. It is obvious that to perform crop monitoring with a dozen of drones and one human operator is much cheaper than to send a helicopter with a dozen of employees to the fields to gather crop samples several times a month.
In comparison to helicopters, cars, and tractors, drones are much more maneuverable. Because of the relatively small size, drones can move to any destination point to collect image data or video tracking data. Also, users can program drones to stay away from any sensitive no-fly area like manufacturing plants, highways, houses etc.
All in all, a drone seems to be an excellent tool for farming and agriculture. Allowing a farmer to collect and analyze both image and video data 24/7, drones seem to be bringing agriculture to the whole new level.
Use of Drones in Agriculture – Major Concerns
Despite their increasing popularity, drones have certain disadvantages too. The two main concerns that any prospective drone owner might have are:
- Are there any legal regulations that restrict the use of drones in agriculture?
- Do drones compromise our safety in any way?
Let’s look into the above-mentioned dilemmas to find out whether drones are that beneficial for an actual farming business.
Legal Regulations for Use of Drones in Agriculture
The good news about the use of drones in agriculture is that there are many attempts to sum up the laws that could be important for drones owners both on the national levels and internationally. For instance, in the Global Drone Regulations Database one can find all sorts of documents that regulate the use of drones according to the country.
Drones vs. Safety
There is no doubt that drones have to be kept away from quite a few geographical areas. These areas include airports, prisons, educational establishments etc. The main dangers to safety that drones can have an impact on are:
- the air collision with airplanes;
- the unauthorized access to the personal sensitive data, e.g. taking photos of minors without parental consent;
- the failure or the breakage resulting in the collapse of a drone.
One can easily avoid the first two risks in the list above thanks to the modern computer vision software. Once equipped with a program that defines the no-fly zones, drones will be guided away from sensitive areas automatically. As for the risk of a drone collapsing at any given point, one has to remember that this risk is unavoidable for most flying machines, including modern helicopters and airplanes.
As you can understand from the above-mentioned facts, drones are effective tools for any farming business. These devices have quite a few advantages that definitely outnumber the possible risks of the use of drones in agriculture. So, now it is high time to see what impact the use of drones can have on modern farming techniques.
When and How to Implement UAVs
Analysis of Soils
Equipped with diverse sensors (like infrared cameras or cameras that can take photos of a definite wavelength), drones can provide detailed data about soils. The current composition of soils, the amount of water in them, the changes in the landscape, the distribution of grass and soil in the area – all this can be tracked by a drone and then analyzed promptly.
Drones in precision agriculture are essential as they allow to control the quantity of fertilizers used to the fullest. Depending on the size of a drone, it can have a different payload. An average heavy lift drone is capable of carrying up to 18 kg or 40 lbs. This is more than enough if you own a middle-size agriculture business and want to supply your soils with the necessary nutrients quickly.
Assessment of Crop Health
Most modern drones have powerful cameras and sensors. That is why these devices can easily track the changes in the crop health basing on the color changes of leaves or the lengths of stems. Once the on-land operator receives this data, one analyzes it and makes further decisions on the crop production. With a drone, you can easily learn the percentage of plants under stress or plants that experience the extreme water loss on your farm.
The use of drones in agriculture is also important due to the data about the amount of water in soil these devices can collect. Flying below the cloud level, drones are capable of detecting signs of excess water in the early stages. This helps to apply water removing technologies promptly, thus preventing considerable financial losses and soil deterioration. Drones are crucial also if one is planning to build effective drainage systems.
Weather conditions and unexpected plant diseases can make considerable harm to any agricultural business. In other words, no farmer can know for sure how much yield and loss is expected this year. In order to keep farmers informed, drones in precision agriculture are used intensively. Collecting the image data from the fields, a drone can give you the updated information on the current state of your crops in no time. This helps to optimize the risk management techniques to the fullest.
With drones at hand, it is much easier to create schedules for applying water to plants on a regular basis. As drones can take detailed images of soils and send them to the operator within the shortest terms, important decisions about watering procedures can be made quickly and effectively.
It makes sense to use drones in farming in order to respond to potential risks in agriculture quickly. With the information that drones provide, one can easily coordinate the efforts to minimize the harm done by the changing weather conditions, landslides, droughts, erosion etc. Using the geospatial services, a farmer is capable of identifying an agricultural thread in the early stages.
Using Pesticides and Herbicides
Drones are a must when it comes to applying pesticides and herbicides. Precise in its maneuvers, a drone can spray any liquid chemical substance effectively and within the shortest terms without any human interference. As a result, with a drone, you can be sure that your farm is 100% safe from the unwanted pests and vegetation.
This function of drones helps
Sure thing, the list of fields where it makes sense to use drones in precision agriculture is not finite. Drones are powerful tools for related fields too, e.g. forestry, fishery etc.
All Things Considered
We sincerely hope that our post helped you to realize how important the use of drones in agriculture can be. Small, maneuverable, easy to navigate and maintain, drones seem to be the most innovative farming technique of the 21st century.