I am curious as to how fast this sector is growing (given the known FAA constraints). Any data points? Even if anecdotal it would be good to hear. I have come across about 10 to 12 North American firms. 

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That would be difficult to estimate. Many of the firms have been around for decades using satellite and aerial photos from light aircraft but are considering/developing in-house UAS capability. They already have the contacts in the farming community and post process expertise. Those operations will be very difficult for a so called "drone" operator to penetrate, let alone impress. They also know it doesn't take $15K to get quality NDVI from 100-1000 feet AGL. We flew successfully for 11 years with gyros, manual controls, and only a GPS downlink to show altitude and location. That was after testing and abandoning 3 autopilots as impractical and unnecessary. Times have changed some, autopilots are more reliable, it will be interesting to see how this all shakes out.

Michael,

Thanks for the reply. What are your thoughts on the fims like Precision Hawk etc.. looking to supply processing as the service? Precision Ag is outside my area so the feedback is appreciated.

Eric

Currently, they are long on promises and short on results, I won't name names but am familiar with 3 firms, nationally and internationally that fit that description. In all fairness, they are self admittedly development companies. I see farmers getting their own systems, and I see firms offering processed end products with the farmer not knowing, or caring, exactly how the data was collected and processed. One thing is for certain, agriculture and surveillance/law enforcement are the big 2 players right now. Ironically, they are at opposite ends of the spectrum in privacy and potential injury possibilities. In 11 years of flying hundreds of ag photo missions, we encountered 2 other manned aircraft, a crop duster, and another photo plane thousands of feet above us. In my work with surveillance companies, every flight gathers a crowd and much of our planning is getting in and out of our observation point safely and undetected in the urban environment. It is my feeling that the FAA regs will separate the men from the boys, if you will. They will closely follow manned aircraft processes and procedures already in place. There may be some relief below 400' for hobbyist but FAA has a long history of heavily regulating anything commercial. What might that look like? Pilots licenses, certificates of training by manufacturers, recurrent training requirements, documents required to be maintained, approved parts and systems, approved repair technicians with factory training, etc.....

There have to be tons. I was at a Precision Ag fair a few weeks go representing US2, and there were TWO others there doing the same. This was a small fair, with maybe 15 exhibitors, 3 of which were UAV-related.

The cool thing is that none of us seem really threatened by each other, and in many cases we collaborate. During this particular fair, the three of us spent a good amount of time talking to each other, comparing notes. I lent some of my equipment to one of the other exhibitors for their demo, and I think one of the others did the same. More than a few of the attendees were taken aback by our willingness to share our "special sauce" with each other, an industry trait I hadn't really even thought about but now realize to be a really neat aspect.

We all agreed that right now, the demand from ag customers far outweighs the ability of UAV firms to provide it, so it is a no brainer for us to work together to make a better offering. The next few years are going to be very, very interesting as the industry matures.

Dan,

Thanks for the note. I see quite a few more firms forming for industrial inspection rather than Ag. Ag seems to be more farmers doing it themselves. This is just based on me looking at who is out there..

Eric

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