The War is Not Over: Why Agriculture Drones Deserve a Closer Look

As many of you know I’ve been researching and writing about agriculture drone solutions since early 2012. I recently came across this OpEd in PrecisionAg titled “Opinion: The Agricultural Drone War Is Over, And They Lost” and read it with great interest. Two and half years ago, our research indicated the same thing—that small drones might not be able to deliver more usable data to a farmer or provide a cost benefit over the existing image solutions available to them.

Even last year I had my doubts. In our June 2016 report, The Truth about Drones in Precision Agriculture, we looked at how drones have been used as remote sensing devices in agriculture thus far, reviewed competitive and traditional approaches using incumbent technology (like satellites and manned aircraft), and discussed the opportunities and challenges posed by the technology itself.

But a lot has changed since then.  Agriculture drones have matured, and so have the sensors and analytical solutions that support them.  A rising number of software vendors are targeting the agriculture space with increasingly useful solutions. And a new generation of drones is delivering much-needed functionality.

Not all agriculture drone solutions are created equal, so it pays to do a bit of research before committing. There are many factors to consider, from software compatibility to price to technical capabilities such as:

  • Can you get all the components—drone, sensor, software, and analytics—from one company?
  • Is an internet connection required in order to process data?
  • Will it integrate well with your existing tools?

The research process to find the best solution can be overwhelming and time-consuming, but there is some good news. We’ve done a fair amount of this work already which you can access in our latest report, Using Drones to Ensure ROI in Precision Agriculture.  You’ll also find a checklist there to help you determine which solution is the best fit.  Here is an excerpt:

Nearly all agriculture drone solutions process RGB color, near infrared (NIR), and normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data.  But not all solutions provide additional analytics and tools better matched to the needs of growers and agronomists. For example, only one solution we know of in the market allows users to view live NDVI data via streaming video while the drone is flying without an internet connection. This means you can more easily fly missions and see critical information at the field’s edge without requiring a trip back to the office. This eliminates a huge bottleneck. Most solutions require that you upload images from the UAV to a mobile device, a laptop or cloud service where they are stitched together to create a base map and the underlying spectrum data is processed into a usable NDVI layer.  In most solutions, you have to wait for that information—sometimes for hours. But with this solution, you don’t have to do that, and the added benefit is you can use the time savings to gather additional inputs from the areas the real-time map shows as suspect.

The report goes on to detail the following:

  • The importance of timely inputs
  • New analytics and tools
  • The importance of an integrated solution—sensor, drone, and analytic data platform
  • The challenges of understanding ROI
  • The benefits of end-to-end solutions

You can get the report, plus an End-to-End UAV Solution Checklist for Precision Agriculture, here. 

Look for another report from us on this topic soon. If you have questions about the information in the report or would like to comment on it after reading, write me at colin@droneanalyst.com.

Image credit: Sentera

Views: 975

Comment by Gary McCray on April 1, 2017 at 12:10pm

Hi Colin,

I always thought your predictions of doom for Agricultural drone use might be a bit a premature.

This has been and is one of the areas where technology is progressing the fastest and where real consumer participation is driving development.

And effective agricultural use is one of the most economically important potential uses of assorted robotic assists.

For a variety of reasons, "drones" are in fact the easiest to initially deploy.

Bill Gates calls it convergence, but at the same time "drones" have been growing up, a number of the sensors and autonomous capabilities have been both maturing and becoming more affordable as well.

Even back in 2012, it was clear that this was going to be the likely development and growth path with the only questions being how long it would take and whether the government would embrace or stifle it.

In the end, it has really progressed like an unstoppable force and our government has done a better job at this point of embracing it than looked like it was initially going to be the case.

Agricultural "drone" use is still more experimental than practical, but that is changing really rapidly now and what is especially great about it is that it is highly scaleable, with practical solutions and opportunities for "Big Ag" as well as smaller farms and ranches.

The force generated by DJI alone in driving the consumer and commercial market is resulting in a lot of very capable photo and video mapping and analysis capable "drones" being available for virtual peanuts and which will be highly usable for agriculture.

For me this is really - "Finally".

And this is really just Year 1.

Best Regards,

Gary

Comment by Colin Snow on April 3, 2017 at 12:20pm

Thanks, Gary. To be clear, I never predicted doom, just slower adoption than the (continued) hyped forecasts. The only big thing that's really changed between 2012 and now is there are better drone solutions (that's what the paper says) and Part 107. The adoption rate of VRT and precision ag is still low. Bottom line I'm in doubt about how many growers, agronomists, and crop specialist will actually get a remote pilot certificate. Who has the time for that? I'm watching the stats on that right now I'm underwhelmed.  - Cheers, Colin

Comment by Eric T on April 7, 2017 at 11:30am

I agree Colin,  I'll take a look at the stuff you link to.

I farm 3000 acres in Canada and we don't really see how a drone could benefit our operation at all at this stage.  I'm wanting to get a little phantom for pictures and videos and the occasional mapping, but more for record keeping than actually anything that affects my bottom line.  We are set up for VRT on a few fields but haven't got around to it.  In theory there are some advantages to precision ag, but in practice there are a lot of different theories on how best to generate and use prescriptions for variable rate stuff.  And even if we did go full tilt into the VRT for fertilizers etc, I'm not convinced a drone would give me much actionable data.

Comment by Antonio Vigoni on April 8, 2017 at 3:58am

"NDVI data via streaming" at the moment for me is not something interesting. I need a georeferenced map to understand if and where there are problems after a complete elaboration. I need a complete vision of the field and if I need more informations I must know exactly were to go in the field scounting for correct decision-making data. Making a prescription map for VRT is not an easy task and you need many different skills that rarelly are present in one person. This are the difficulties using a drone for precision farming.
Sorry but when I read "I myself have spent many days walking through pollinating cornfields on hot summer days looking for my downed drones" I think that there is somethin wrong.....

Comment

You need to be a member of DIY Drones to add comments!

Join DIY Drones

© 2017   Created by Chris Anderson.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service