For years, male bees have served multiple purposes. Yes, that’s what drones were called in the early 20th century while they were being used in World War. Since then, the use of drones has diversified into various sectors such as construction, mining, transportation, disaster relief, filmmaking and many others. The commercial use of drones is increasing exponentially day by day. Although, the list of applications is substantial, the question remains – Can this technology solve major problems like hunger and malnutrition, sustainable natural resource management, and the continuously varying climatic conditions? The use of drones for agricultural purposes is providing solutions to these problems on a large extent.
The farming industry is revolutionizing with the adoption of new technologies and implementing them in the fields. Drones are turning to be an essential part of this revolution by providing more precise outputs at lower costs and quicker than ever before. The cameras mounted on these drones are able to deliver bird’s eye view of fields and images with accuracy reaching centimeter level. The cost of aerial imaging is comparatively inexpensive than satellite imaging or manned aircraft surveillance. Earlier, field scouting was done with the help of all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) by riding them around the perimeter of the field. This process covered only about 10% of the field, conversely drone can cover almost 100% of the field in lesser time. This paves the way for more frequent monitoring and scouting for data collection. Moreover, drones are also used for crop health assessment, dusting, crop spraying, planting, and irrigation.
While everything seems to be good, there are still some factors which are abstaining the adoption of drones on a larger extent. One of them is government regulations for flying drones for commercial purpose. This varies in different parts of the world. Some countries provide freedom to fly any type of drone unless it does not harm anyone while some countries are so strict that a drone operator can’t even switch ON the drone without prior permission. And it doesn’t get any better for acquiring an operator’s license. Another reason for slower adoption is, data privacy and ownership issues among the public. There are minimal measures taken to prevent misuse of data acquired by drones. Moreover, many areas in various parts of the world are still lacking network connectivity which is essential for using drones for farming.
Regardless of these factors, the adoption of drones in agriculture is increasing rapidly. Companies like DJI, AgEagle Sentera, Delair, PrecisionHawk, and Parrot have shown silver lining to farmers by developing highly efficient and economically viable drones. Many companies are designing drones with a specific dimension such that they can fly comfortably within the regulatory framework. As we know, fixed-wing drones and multi-rotor drones both have their own list pros and cons, companies like Wingtra, Birdseyeview Aerobotics and AeroVironment have developed hybrid drones which are based on Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTOL) technology. Basically, these drones hold all the positive aspects of fixed wing and multi-rotor combined in the single drone. Many drone manufacturers like Yamaha, MMC (MicroMultiCopter) UAV, Kray Technologies, Zoomlion, and DJI are developing heavy-duty drones which can carry heavy weights at longer distances, useful for crop spraying and dusting purposes. One of the start-ups in Israel named SkyX solutions has come up with an innovative way which is, a modular swarm of autonomous drones for spraying. This means a farmer can cover a huge area of the field in a single coordinated flight.
Drone management software and sensors are essential part while using any type of drone exhibiting autonomous or manual flight. Companies like PrecisionHawk, DroneDeploy, Agribotix, Airware, Agremo, HUVRData, Airinov, and Honeycomb Corporation provide software solutions for drone management and data analysis. Sensors are manufactured by many drone manufacturers itself, nonetheless, there are many companies like Micasense, Sony, Sentera, Parrot, sensefly, and FLIR which have the most advanced sensors in the market and have acquired the majority of market share.
Does the hype going on about the use of drones for farming practices, worth it? Can we say that drones can solve major food security issues and lead us to a sustainable future? Well, at this moment man bees do offer effective and efficient solutions leading to increased farming outputs while reducing the use of harmful fertilizers. We can say that drones are playing an essential role and may lead to being the next generation of sustainable agriculture in the future.