Online news site cincinnati.com recently posted an article and video about farmer Stuart Ferguson’s use of a UAS as part of his daily chores. The 60-year old uses a DJI Phantom 3 multirotor for a variety of farming tasks like checking on his livestock, ensuring the feeders are adequately stocked with hay, and generally surveying his 300 acre property. One thing that stood out about this article and accompanying media clip was that it was a very positive “drone story” — a pleasant change from most of the yellow journalism associated with small UAS that has dominated the media since 2014.
In the article, Ferguson explains that being technologically adept is a requirement to be a successful farmer these days. Before acquiring his Phantom, Ferguson used to spend hours walking the land or riding an ATV just to get from one destination to the other to do his checks. Now he puts his Phantom in the air and can view his property in high definition, thanks to the multirotor’s high quality long range video data link.
Ferguson’s opinion on the value of technology to farmers is consistent with other assessments of the utility of small UAS for agriculture. In 2013 the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicted that the agriculture industry would be a major factor in the realization of more than $80 billion in revenue generation over ten years after UAS are fully integrated into the National Airspace System (Jenkins & Vasigh, 2013). While the AUVSI study was focused primarily on aerial photography in the IR spectrum and vegetation density analysis, Ferguson’s multirotor application is just another way that small UAS can help farmers in some of the more mundane daily tasks.
The way that Ferguson is using the DJI Phantom only scratches the surface of the possibilities he can unleash with this 350mm, lightweight multirotor. Last year DJI released a software development kit for the Phantom, allowing aftermarket software developers to create even better uses for the multirotor. For example, Swiss company Pix4D has released an autonomous mapping app for the Phantom that can be used to create extremely detailed 3D models and orthographic photos (Pix4D, n.d.). Another company, Aerial MediaPros, has modified the stock Phantom camera to take photos in the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index realm, which is the standard for precision agriculture crop scouting (AerialMediaPros, n.d.). Coupling this camera with mapping data compilers for the Phantom like Maps Made Easy can yield huge information gains for farmers looking to maximize production.
Unparalleled system integration, excellent user interface, long range, 25-minute endurance, and a $799 price tag make the Phantom very difficult to beat as a workhorse multirotor small UAS. It’s great to see farmers like Stuart Ferguson latch on to this technology for day to day use.
p.s. – The video in the article source link below is worth watching as it includes some spectacular footage of Mr. Ferguson’s farm.
Aerial MediaPros. (n.d.) Ag Scout Basic – Phantom 3 NDVI Mapping Drone [Product web page]. Retrieved on February 9, 2016 from http://aerialmediapros.com/store/ag-scout-basic-phantom-3-ndvi-mapping-drone/dp/830
Jenkins, D., Vasigh, B. (2013). The Economic Impact of Unmanned Systems Integration in the United States. Retrieved on November 12, 2015 from http://higherlogicdownload.s3.amazonaws.com/AUVSI/958c920a-7f9b-4ad2-9807-f9a4e95d1ef1/UploadedImages/New_Economic%20Report%202013%20Full.pdf
Knight, C. (2016, January 23). Farm chores: stack wood, fly drone. cincinnati.com. Retrieved from http://www.cincinnati.com/story/weather/2016/01/22/farm-chores-stack-wood-fly-drone/79177328/
Pix4D. (n.d.) Product – Pix4Dcapture; Flight planning mobile-app for optimal mapping data with your drone [Product web page]. Retrieved on February 9, 2016 from https://www.pix4d.com/product/pix4dcapture-app/