By Don McCullough from Santa Rosa, CA, USA (Drone and Moon) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
FAA Drone To Make Test Flights Over Batavia
Batavia, NY (WBEN) -- Even as FAA rules regarding unmanned aircrafts are being ironed out, the Cornell Cooperative Extension is working to take advantage of the drone technology for agriculture.
A drone will soon be flying over Batavia (officials have not said exactly when and have only specified the Batavia area) conducting agricultural research. It’s a cautious experiment because of how complicated U.S. airspace is and how nascent the technology is.
“The FAA’s concern and rightly so is that these drones are used safely and they respect the other types of airspace that are out there,” Bill Verbeten, Regional Extension Agronomist, NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops Team, said. “It’s not a simple ‘Just put it up in the air and hope for the best.’ You have to plan it out, you have to notify the local airport. You really need to do everything to be as safe as you can.”
The FAA is allowing the flights in six locations as it develops rules for pilotless aircrafts. Researchers are putting the opportunity to good use, with the eventual goal of allowing farmers to gather information they wouldn’t otherwise have.
“We are hoping to start to figure out what’s going to be relevant for farmers,” Verbeten said, “because this technology has lots of potential, but there are many things that need to be figured out.”
By affixing different sensors farmers can better visualize important aspects of proper management.
For some examples, a sensor can tell how green the plants are. Verbeten says it’s an indication of a plant’s health and will help farmers make better use of resources such as fertilizer to improve their bottom line and the environment. A thermal sensor can be used to see how hot plants are. That could indicate an oncoming disease or insect damage. Also, a visual sensor – like a high-resolution camera – can create a 3D model of the crop to count plant population and to better predict yield. It’s the many possibilities that make research important.
“You can put a lot of combinations of sensors on these drones that are flying at relatively low altitudes,” Verbeten said. “The challenge becomes what sensors at what growth stage are going to be relevant for eventual management decisions by farmers.”
The commercial guidelines for drone technology are not expected until late 2015 and until then, the group plans on utilizing the FAA-allowed airspace for the agricultural research.
Researchers eventually want to expand to 10 counties including Niagara and Orleans due to the great diversity of farms in the region.
“Part of the purpose of research is to find repeatable results,” Verbeten said. “If we test this technology and we test different tasks assigned to this technology across our growing region where we have large differences in prototype, elevation, precipitation, growing season length and farmer practices across a wide diversity of farms including conventional, organic and reduced tillage, we can really get some rigorous results.”