Past the Hype: Is the Farm Drone Living up to Expectations?

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Are we all still “drone drunk” or has the farm drone “expectation hangover” begun?

Apr 1, 2016

Resident AgFlyers editors Curt Moore and Beau Dealy give two different perspectives on the state of Unmanned Aerial Systems in Agriculture.


Curt’s Opinion-

The ag UAS “buzz” is real, and we’ve only just begun.

You’ll be hard pressed to browse news articles without seeing something about drones lately.  Over the last year, we’ve seen the coverage shift from news about military strikes and bloodshed  towards more of a perspective that showcases the benefits of civilian drone use, especially where Ag is concerned.  Drones are front page news for many Ag journals and websites; and for good reason-  AUVSI, the world’s largest non-profit organization devoted exclusively to advancing the unmanned systems and robotics community, reported in 2013 that in the first three years of integration, more than 70,000 jobs will be created in the United States with an economic impact of more than $13.6 billion. AUVSI projects that this benefit will grow through 2025 as they forecast that UAS will deliver on the promise of more than 100,000 jobs created with an economic impact of $82 billion.  Throughout this growth period, AUVSI believes the majority benefit will go to Ag use.

The farm drone still draws a crowd.

While attending the 2015 InfoAg conference, it was evident that there is still a lot of buzz about drones amongst the tech farming community.  Folks flocked to the UAS vendors and stood around with jaws agape listening to the many ways these robotic wonders can bring value to farming operations. Granted, the UAS industry is still fledgling, and there is already stiff competition amongst platform developers, and the technology continues to improve by leaps and bounds, despite the lack of a clear regulatory direction.


Beau’s Opinion-

Growers get past the hype: This is the farm UAS “morning after”.

For close to a half decade, the buzz has continued to build regarding use of farm drones. That famous economic report published by the AUVSI is starting to get long in the tooth; as stalled regulation is likely to thwart those economic predictions for 2015. Further down the road, this makes predictions for the two years following even less certain. The potential user base are not the same folks they were even two years ago. Let me clarify – they’re the same people all right – Joe is still Joe and Bob is still Bob; but their expectations have changed quite a bit. When our company first started selling AgEagles, folks already had stars in their eyes watching Phantoms get up close and personal with cattle at the water trough; while asking questions with respect to UAS ability that they knew full well weren’t possible. A UAV still can’t devine water on your property; and now folks have the horse sense to not even bother asking if it can.

What can I do today? – Practical use of unmanned systems.

Ag professionals if nothing else are a resourceful lot. If there’s one thing that the community as a whole is good at, it’s making do with what they’ve got. sUAS exposure to the farm community has been sufficient enough over the last couple of years to get the gears moving in the collective brain of growers and ranchers. Rather than looking at sUAS as the “one tech to bind them all”, people are seeing drones for what they really are: A value-added tool that when used over time will increase efficiencies in their operation. We’re starting to see a focus on quantifying events and validating practices on already familiar ground (literally). Need to know acreage during a loss event? Easy. Want to see if that variety planted in your test strip is outperforming the rest of the field? Totally doable. More advanced techniques are also attainable with the current technology as well. For example, we’ve seen a supervised classification discern the ratio of weeds to emerging crop in a field; but that field knowledge is still imperative before the computer’s even switched on back in the office.

Are we “drone drunk” or simply hungover?

We’re curious to here where y’all weigh in on this: Is the potential still there for this emerging technology? Can we attain the kind of success hinted in that AUVSI report? Is agriculture key to the success of unmanned aerial systems? Join in the discussion below!
The editorial staff at AgFlyers would like to remind everyone that being “drone drunk” and “drunk droning” are two entirely different things. Fly safe, folks! 😉

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