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Precision Ag and UAS Will Be Proven This Summer

By Luke Geiver | May 26, 2016

Last week we were on site for the ground station set-up of Elbit’s Hermes fixed-wing unmanned aircraft vehicle on a small airport in the ag fields of North Dakota. Later this summer, Elbit will be working with university researchers and sugar beet farmers to leverage and perfect Elbit’s offerings with the needs of growers and field managers in the area. The flight—at least to date—will be considered as one with the largest UAV ever flown for precision ag purposes. It’s safe to say the summer operations will be a milestone moment for the industry.

This week, news came out regarding Yamaha’s RMAX unmanned helicopter being used to spray vineyards in California. The news is exciting for all of us who believe such systems offer an incredible value when used on the appropriate scale with the right expectations in mind. When talking with a non-UAS informed person about how UAVs may be used in farming, many can understand how a UAV may be used to perform aerial chemical application services (spraying) for farmers. While that idea is certainly on point, the practicality of such a service is still years away.

However, the work being done by Yamaha on the West Coast, shows that such a service not only can, but will become a reality in the future. Every few months there seems to be another milestone moment for the UAS industry. Take the RMAX for example. A few months ago, researchers in Washington State were using the system to dry off cherry orchard leaves simply by flying the RMAX above the orchards and letting the prop wash dry the leaves through intense air movement. That was a milestone moment, in some ways, for the RMAX style platform. It showed potential end-users what such a system is partially capable of. The recent vineyard exercise is an extension of that work. By the end of this growing season, there will certainly be many new precision ag UAV stories to prove how valid the connection between unmanned aircraft systems and precise growing truly is. As the fields grow, so too will the known capabilities of UAS in the precision ag realm grow as well.