Agricultural sector is revolutionizing with implementation of rapidly evolving technology in farming sector for increasing the food production and reducing the use of environmentally harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Sustainable agriculture and higher yields are major factors which have led farmers to adopt precision agriculture. Use of auto-steering equipment, variable rate systems and predictive analytics is increasing in this segment. The integration of drones for aerial mapping, surveying, monitoring, crop spraying and scouting has become essential part of this revolution. Although drones are majorly used for aerial imagery, the mapping and crop spraying applications have proved to be highly useful.
A typical agricultural UAS can be divided into three parts which are drone, sensor and software. Without the integration of sensor and software, the drone would be nothing more than a toy. One of the major area where sensors are essential is altitude measurement. During the flight, it is very important to accurately estimate the distance between the drone and ground to avoid accidents. Various types of sensors are used to measure this distance. LiDAR, LADAR and RADAR are some of the few altitude measuring sensors majorly used for this purpose.
Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) sensor is widely used by numerous drone operators due to its exceptional accuracy and compact size. It emits light energy with the help of laser, which reflects back to the sensor after it reaches ground level. This process provides highly accurate elevation measurements. The data collected with these sensors is very useful to create 3D models, map of fields and analyze drought stress among crops. LiDAR is very essential while using drones for crop spraying and crop dusting. It is necessary to precisely identify areas with higher and lower density of vegetation along with the geography of the field for variable rate applications. Although the applications and accuracy of data collection with the help of these sensors is high, the initial cost for installation of LiDAR sensors is comparatively higher. Many farmers are using LiDAR only for surveying key areas in the field where greater precision is needed, and the rest of the field is scanned with the help of manned aerial aircrafts. This strategy is adopted for cost cutting, by farmers having larger fields.
Many sensor providers are consistently improving the size, weight, design and compatibility of LiDAR sensors for increasing its adoption in agricultural drones. Better quality at lower costs should be the next target for sensor manufacturers. Routescene, a drone mapping solutions provider have introduced UAV LidarPod which is a combined and cost effective solution. It includes all necessary sensors like lidar, radio telemetry, data storage system, power supply and GPS in single body. Whereas, Velodyne which is one of the leading sensor manufacturer offers individual LiDAR sensors like HDL-32E, Puck VLP-16 and Puck lite for small unmanned aerial vehicles. The velodyne Puck lite sensor is well known for its 360 degree surround view and light weight. Apart from this, many companies like Riegl, LeddarTech and Yellowscan also offer variety of LiDAR sensors in agricultural drone market.
Below are the leading companies in Aerial LiDAR Ecosystem.