Brief History of Drone Technology
Early Development of Drone Technology
A large amount of attention has been placed on drones and their evident capabilities to influence the productivity and efficiency of agriculture in North America. Although the hype of drone use in agriculture is currently a hot topic and a seemingly advanced addition to the sector, it’s interesting to find out that drone technology has actually been around for nearly a century. Initially developed with the intent to take down enemy Zepplins, the first drone design was developed in 1916. Although this drone did not actually take flight, modifications and differing intended uses continued to spark the advancements to several models of drones during the WWI-WWII period.
Modern-Day Drones in Agriculture
For modern-day drones, agriculture is a promising industry for adoption. Despite the demand for drones however, access to use this technology isn’t easy. Drone use is highly regulated, as privacy and safety are a main concern of governments. However the increasing numbers of producers and agronomists adopting drone technology is forcing legislature to adapt alongside them. The first permit to use a drone for agricultural purposes issued by the Federal Aviation Administration of America was in January of 2015. These permits seem to be one of the only roadblocks in the way of drone technology becoming a new norm in agriculture.
The Ruston Proctor Aerial Target (1916) was one
of the first UAV's ever designed for military use.
Typical drone used in modern-day agriculture.
Drones could have a huge effect on improving environmental sustainability in the coming years in multiple areas of agriculture. One of them, is that drones are being equipped with multi-spectral cameras that can take several different types of pictures of the field and even overlay these pictures to create very valuable information for the farmer during the growing seasons. These pictures provide a range of information from plant health to soil conditions. While a crop is growing, the drone could detect a stressed area of the field; this stress could be from insects, disease, lack of fertilizer or others. Instead of the farmer treating the whole field for the issue, a farmer could use the maps to variable spray the solution onto the crops to solve the problem. This would decrease the farmer’s inputs on such things as fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides, lowering their input costs and reducing stress on the environment. The use of drones to check fields or any other day to day observation tasks could be done by a drone, allowing the farmer to remain in one place, reducing his travel and fuel consumption.
The last couple of years California has experienced a very deadly drought, severely damaging the natural vegetation and crops of the state. Trials and testing have been done using drones to fly up into the clouds and conduct cloud seeding, a scientific way of increasing precipitation in clouds to lead to rain. The use of drones to do this method has sparked much interest as they can complete the process easier than traditional methods. In, summary, the use of drones has great potential to improve environmental conditions all around it and especially agriculture sectors. The use of drones could reduce inputs and increase outputs in almost every way it us used and reduce current strains upon the environment.
The change in economics is constantly changing with the increasing advancement of technology. According to many agricultural specialists, 2015 is the start of something special for the Agriculture industry. 2015 is the start of the drone era for agriculture, and the projections on the agriculture economy look positive. Some analysts project a huge jump in the economy as well as an increase in jobs added. According to a recent survey by the AUVSI, the Agriculture sector is the largest market for the drone market accounting for 80% of all commercial use. The study also mentions that the total economic impact on agriculture spending on drones in Kansas, is projected to reach over $75 million with 772 job created in 2015. The same study by AUVSI also estimated that the economic effect of allowing agricultural drones into the national airspace would be above $2.3 billion dollars and would create 12,000 jobs in California. The AUVSI just recently published a report that estimates that drones could have a cumulative $82 billion economic impact on the USA between 2015 and 2025. There are conflicting reports that between 80% and 92% of the commercial drone economy are from agricultural use. This means that drone use could give the agricultural economy a boost from between $65.6 Billion to $75.44 Billion in the next ten years. The inclusion of drones for agricultural uses will help sustain and improve the agricultural economy for years to come.
Estimated Spend and Economic Impact of Commercial UAVs: Next Decade
Source: Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI)
AUVSI Economic projection for Kansas (Assuming F.A.A. regulations are in place)
Pro's and Con's of Drone Use in Agriculture
Compared to scouting fields on foot, drones allow for a much faster way to monitor crops and collect agronomic data. Drones are also capable of detecting harmful problems such as weeds, pests and fungus, and applying chemical to individual problem areas before they get out of control in the rest of the crop. This advantage will potentially lead to less chemical use in the future, saving producer’s time and money. In addition, drones allow producers to know exact details on individual plants, which is virtually unthinkable with current technology. The fact that crop scouting can essentially be accomplished by an unmanned vehicle mitigates the need for agronomists and producers to walk through individual fields, reducing labour costs and enhancing efficiency in agriculture immensely.
Current drone regulations are put in place mainly to ensure privacy and safety in the highly concentrated urban areas. However, the advantage of using drones in agriculture comes from the low concentrations of people scattered throughout rural areas, and thus lower potential concern for safety and privacy issues. There are fewer regulations for drones that fly over private land, which makes the process of using a drone much simpler in rural areas.
The cost of acquiring a drone can be up to several thousand dollars for the producer, with the cheapest option costing roughly $2,000. In addition to the cost of owning the drone, training is another mandatory expense that producers must incur if they want to operate the drone themselves.
Uncertainties of Legislation
The current uncertainty of legislation makes it difficult for producers to know the exact restrictions that they face when using drones.
In conclusion, Drones clearly have a strong potential in many sectors of agriculture. There are some obstacles in front of them that need to be cleared before its full potential can be grasped, but the future is bright for drones.