Inside Unmanned Systems

JUN-JUL 2019

Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.

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30  June/July 2019 unmanned systems inside PROJECT WATCH Innovative Worldwide UAS Use identify or track depending on what the customer was looking for. "If you start talking to a farmer, in many cases they're looking to detect a threat to their fields and track the health trajectory. It's a very similar challenge." SlantRange's offices are 45 minutes from the nearest agricultural field. But being amid the defense nexus of San Diego continues to provide intel- lectual capital. "There's a cluster of remote sensing networks," Ritter ex- plained. "So much of it is in the defense space: General Atomics, Northrop Grumman—a lot of that stuff in the classified space." Ritter had spent six years as a development engineer at UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography before joining General Atomics, and SlantRange's lead data scientist was a colleague there. "It's expensive," Ritter conceded about the region's cost of living, "but there's a fan- tastic talent pool for remote sensing." INSIDE THE TECH SlantRange's sensor systems—4P and 4P+—algorithmically sort out plants from soil, ref lections, shad- ows and the like. "We focused very early on making results accurate— good-quality data," Ritter recalled. "Somebody is wanting to make an important decision. That's a lesson everyone learned from the defense space." Also, SlantRange sensors offer corrections while in the air. "Traditionally something on the ground provides corrections for you. We developed a technology that al- lows that to be onboard the aircraft. Easier, lower-cost, better part of a day flying autonomously." At just 350 grams, the system is very light—and drone-agnostic; you just mount it. Since 2014, several major up- grades have been incorporated: • Data overlap—and data collec- tion—costs have been cut by a fac- tor of four. • A patented, onboard Ambient Illumination Sensor, powering the industry's first multispectral sens- ing system with onboard sunlight calibration, accounts for changing lighting introduced by cloud cover, or the time of day or season. There's no need for hard-to-scale ground calibration panels. • A SlantView Analytics plan deliv- ers data within minutes, in the field. Users can teach the software to iden- tify patterns from soil moisture vari- ability to where a particular weed is emerging. Multiple data layers check for, among other patterns, plant populations, vegetation variance and stress, yield potential and—as before—chlorophyll content. "Some customers know exactly what bands they are looking for," Ritter said. "We can customize to those bands. We've developed a ca- pability to count individual plants and size. The grower has a measure of yield before he asks the harvest crew to come out. Growers can choose with a lot more specificity. "Also, a number of customers are using our technology for adjacents— beetle forestry, rail lines, to monitor vegetation." The goal is to provide a macro sense of data for what Ritter called "more transformative agriculture— a time when growers aren't left to wonder what is happening in their fields. What's the forecasted yield? The status of yield today? If a condi- tion changes, what is the treatment to apply?" This precision can serve "We'd already learned lessons in the defense space; defense technology does a lot of early development that brings costs down and makes it available." Mike Ritter, CEO, SlantRange identify or track depending on what not just growers, but insurers and other agricultural partners. TALK ABOUT YOUR EVOLUTION SlantRange's customer base has shifted from early-adopter small growers to a majority of large, multi- nationals—seed producers, crop protectors, crop nutrient suppliers, specialty produce customers. These enterprise customers, Ritter ex- plained, "view the collection and pro- cessing of agricultural data as neces- sary to take their business to the next step. And they're very focused that their intellectual property is secure in the technology they're sourcing. They've taken a look at our patents and feel secure. The last thing they want is to build a 10-year plan on a technology that could have the rug pulled out from under them." Sla ntR a nge's f uture involves those patents and, as with so many other airborne tech providers, life beyond BVLOS. "Ultimately, we're trying to enable the future of auton- omous and sustainable agriculture. Closed-loop autonomous farming. Data delivery directly to auto spray- ers, robotic harvesters, drone-based sprayers. Once you can close that loop, you've gotten to autonomous agriculture and efficiency goes up by an order of magnitude." Coming full circle, Ritter cited SlantRange's defense roots in en- abling that future. "We have compe- tition, but we think we've been able to move faster. We'd already learned lessons in the defense space; defense technology does a lot of early devel- opment that brings costs down and makes it available. "It's fascinating when technology can be migrated." SlantView analytics software, processing in- the-fi eld results in 15 minutes. Project Watch DEFENSE COMMERCIAL NEXUS

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