Inside Unmanned Systems

FEB-MAR 2018

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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Q+A 66 February/March 2018 unmanned systems inside Q G F Q: Are there cameras or sensors o r other things that agriculture needs? a: Yes, I think we need more, on a small UAS, we need more channels on the cameras. Instead of just four channels we might need 10 to 20 channels. …And I think we also need tighter bands on these cameras. ROBERT BLAIR is a fourth-generation farmer in Idaho and a leading expert on the use of drones to support agriculture. Blair, now a consultant, was one of the fi rst farmers to work with ag drones. He was the vice president for agriculture at Measure, a drone service provider. Q: Why has the agricultural sector not adopted unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to the degree originally expected? a: There're a couple of reasons why. …One of the biggest factors is, in about 2014-2015, the agricultural market took a nosedive. Commodity prices are down; there's been some yield issues. Farmers have kind of hunkered down and are not spending money on what is deemed as unnecessary equipment. The other is the hype around the systems. There'd been a lot of hype leading up to drone systems and services and, looking back, we aren't really able to do much more than what a yield monitor can do as far as making management zones. The difference is UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles) are proactive and so you can see things during the growing season whereas yield monitors are reactive and you have to wait until the crop is mature before you get the information. It comes down to systems and sensors and software— being able to identify weeds, insects and disease—and the (drone) industry's just not there. But the capabilities of the systems, the drones themselves, are more than meeting the needs for agriculture. Q: What other diffi culties have you seen? a: So the agriculture industry still has, well the drone industry as a whole has, some challenges such as being able to f ly beyond line of sight and being able to f ly at night. I think those two, if the FAA could come out with regulations to address those, so we could f ly, the commercial industry could f ly in those instances, it would help tremendously for not only agriculture but a lot of other industries. Q: Agriculture wants to fl y at night? a: I think there's great promise for utilizing different sensors, especially thermal sensors, to gather data—and you have less wind usually at night. Also, if we take a look at doing aerial applications with spray drones, it would get the drones out of the way of manned aerial applicators. Q: Are there any bright spots in how agriculture is using drones? a: I think we're making advancements…but agriculture is not being heard by the drone industry. What I mean by that is agriculture needs the information in real time, with less than 24 hours (delay), preferably on the ground, and the infrastructure to start uploading all of the imagery and all of the data is not found in rural America. I have a less than 0.5-megabyte upload speed. So if I do a day's worth of f lights, how am I going to get that sent into the cloud to get it processed and back to me? It doesn't work. And so the industry, their business model, is to do all the processing in the cloud instead of working on software to do processing on the ground. Five Good Questions ROBERT BLAIR

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