Don’t call unmanned aerial vehicles “drones” when you’re talking to Rory Paul. “When we hear ‘drone,’ the popular media has us seeing military predator systems with Tomahawk missiles slung underneath,” said Paul, CEO of Volt Aerial Robotics.
“What we’re talking about are farming implements that fly, that are doing work on your farm.” Paul prefers to call them unmanned aerial vehicles or UAVs. He shared how radio-controlled UAVs can be used for crop scouting and other agricultural applications at the Iowa Soybean Association On-Farm Network Conference in Ames. Paul said there are different types and sizes of unmanned aircraft —military systems and agricultural equivalents. ”Next time you hear ‘drone,’ you can ask what type, what size, what it does,” Paul said.
“I believe they have huge potential to benefit agriculture.”
Paul doubts that large predator-sized UAVs will ever fly over fields. ”It’s the small UAVs that we should be interested in because they can do a lot of work for agriculture,” he said. Whether farmers can operate UAVs on their farms for agricultural purposes is a grey area, Paul said. They can fly a radio-controlled plane with an autopilot in it for recreation up to 400 feet. UAVs can be used for mapping land. It provides high resolution with down to sub-inch accuracy.
Crop scouting is another use. A farmer can stand on the edge of the field with a ground station and see what a UAV camera sees over a field. Farmers can use UAVs to take population counts from multiple spots in the field in a fraction of the time it takes to do on foot. Spraying, especially spot spraying, is another application. Paul also sees a time when pollination and sampling could be done with UAVs. ”The sky is the limit,” he said. By Jean Caspers-Simmet email@example.com