Which UAV system to go with?

Going to take on a UAV for this season for our own operation.

Row crop ag production (corn/soybeans) type work.  I want the best image/optics possible but am torn as to how much to spend early into this UAV evolution.  Do we go with something under $10,000 and get by for a few years and learn or do we go full tilt and get the $30,000 big payload auto everything?  We could fly 10,000 acres but maybe we just fly 1,000 and learn for a few years and find the golden nuggets.  I would like an VTOL and could get by but really need fixed wing to cover big acres...  Thoughts....

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  • I have started very small scale with the E384 from Event 38 http://www.event38.com/.  This is a Skywalker fixed wing airframe that cost less than $2500.  Not as fancy as other products on the market I know but it is a great way to learn learn the basics of flying and acquiring imagery.  As for sensors I have a S100 Canon camera with a blue glass filter.  Again nothing fancy but I need to start somewhere and do not have tens of thousands of dollars to spend.

  • Hi,

    We have been working on a VTOL aircraft for about 3 years now and have made some progress, check out the video to get an idea of the concept: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HjPvx_TMmBk&list=UU3vbCLbMR0hfw...

    Our idea is to build a VTOL capable aircraft that can fly at least 80mph with the goal of a 2 hour duration.

    The application we would like to see it used for is in farming and anti poaching. The idea is that you could survey a 10,000 acre farm or game reserve everyday with automatic take off and landing. The idea is to set up a solar powered hangar in a field that the aircraft leaves from and returns to each day to be wireless recharged so the UAV would run autonomously and the farmer / game ranger would not have to launch or re-charge it everyday. Some sort of rain gauge set up like the sprinkler systems would stop a take off until it stops raining and flying under 400 ft all the time means you are ok under FAA regs.  

    I pitched the idea to Chris Anderson but he seemed to think that long duration quad copters would be as effective as a VTOL capable aircraft, obviously we disagree.

    We would love to apply our invention to farming as that is a keen area of personal interest as I work full time in the biofuel industry.

    Our challenge is we know how to build aircraft but have no idea what sensors are required or what kind of images a farmer would need, so are looking for that kind of input from a potential alpha test user. 

    Let me know if you would like to work with us.


    • Moderator

      Why not make sure the tractors and irrigation system are sensor rich?

    • Howzit Gary....sorry I did not get to visit with you over Xmas, but it was a crazy busy trip in the end.

      Corn and beans grown in the US midwest (200 million acres) are mostly rain fed so no irrigation system....

      ....the tractors are only used once the crop is in when applying something like a fertilizer or pesticide and so cannot give you the daily survey data that will help reduce the fertilizer and pesticide applications.

      One of the innovations that drones can bring is that we could reduce the amount of "stuff" applied if the farmer could determine where on the 10,000 acres it is needed to apply pesticide or fertilizer etc, so you only apply where you need it rather than apply a blanket dose to the whole block.

      ...the challenge is how to determine what can we get from a drone to tell us where to apply fertilizer or where to apply pesticide.  

  • 10,000 acres is 2 miles wide, 7 miles long if all in one block....which it never is.  Most blocks are 2 miles long, 1 mile wide at best.

    There is 640 acres in each square mile. 

    Thanks for the input folks!

  • something that will help lower your cost is using a foamboard airplane, its light, rigid enough, if wrecked simple to build again and would allow you to learn your platform before making the other one with the expensive gear.  You need something that can stay in the air for a long time, land on short patch of grass or gravel, and carry a huge payload. Something with a large wingspan with a stol wing, maybe a c-wing, elongated body, prop or fan pending on design and wieght. you could go blimp- large lift with plenty capability for weight, would give you your vtol desire and would work as long as winds are below 15 to 20 knots (pending on engine strength)

  • From my own experience: if you intend to fly on your own, purchase an extra bird to get aquainted with flying it. The most expensive is your payload, so don't put that at risk when you don't have to.
    Put some dummy weight in your spare/training bird in order to see how it flies and why it may crash.
    Fly some missions with your training bird for the same reasons.
    Use some cheap camera to use with your training bird and get used to taking pics and see how and under which light conditions pics are best taken.
    Once you are confident with your cheap solution, you can evolve to a more sophisticated one, but it's wasted money in my sight to start with an 'all inclusive' that costs that much.... Where is your return on investment?

  • $10k will buy big payload and auto everything. The money is in the hyper spectral cameras. Airframes are the least cost, then power systems and electronics. I am just now finishing a 11' span twin boom fixed wing designed to carry a 10 lb. $80K camera. The total cost for this very large UAS was $1200. For multi-rotors, I am using DJI S800 hexacopter. It is a great machine for lifting but ditch the NAZA autopilot and swap in a pixhawk or Ardupilot. My .02 from 10 years of ag imaging with " model airplanes" topViewUAS.com

    10,000 acres is 80 miles if 40 acres wide if I did the math right. That being the case, you will need approximately 2 hours duration. All this is hypothetical as that type of flight is highly illegal at this time, and will be for a long time. That being said, altitude will be your friend as 80 acres in a photo frame will cut duration needed in half. We shot most of our images at 1000 agl, line of sight, and got 40 acre shots to mosaic into larger acreage. Our work now is in post process of video, not stills. We'll see what develops regulations wise and image process wise to select a clear path forward. Then there is the surveillance research........ :-)
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