Our business here at AFS started as an idea to make collecting field data easier for surveyors by using existing consumer technology; a tablet, external GNSS, and GIS software. The products were out there, but early adopters needed proof that the software could collect the necessary data and the tablet’s could be made “tough enough” to replace proprietary hand-held GPS units. We love the growth we have seen in the last three years in this market, and we think this industry is still in the early part of the bell curve of adoption as more companies test this solution in 2015. With that said, we are obsessed with efficiency in the field and technology that makes life easier for ourselves and other field surveyors.
Along those lines, we have been watching the commercial UAV, or UAS, or just plain drone, technology for the last year. This industry is in its infancy, especially in the U.S., maybe just the tip of the tail on the bell curve of adoption. However, with the FAA hinting at less restrictive regulations (no pilot license required to operate) with their Proposed New Rules for Small Unmanned Aerial Systems, we see a huge potential market in the survey and mapping community. But not just the survey community, but also utilities maintenance and agricultural crop monitoring.
With this in mind, we were very excited for out opportunity to attend the Precision Farming EXPO 2015 in Salem, Oregon hosted by the Duke Joseph Agency. The 2-day Precision Farming Expo provided an opportunity for vendors in the farm equipment, software, and UAV industries to display their equipment and share their experiences with these new technologies and present research findings. There were nearly 30 vendors available to answer questions and demo their equipment.
While the big shiny farm equipment was cool, our main focus was on the UAV vendors which included:
- Yamaha: massive unmanned helicopter RMAX (200 lbs beast to the right)
- SenseFly: eBee fixed wing
- HoneyComb: fixed wing and software with focus on ag applications
- Aerial Technologies International: custom built multi-rotor UAV
- Trimble: UX5 fixed wing
UAV-related vendors also included:
- MicaSense: makers of lightweight multispectral cameras for UAVs
- DroneDeploy: aerial data capture and cloud processing
- SkyWard: provides assistance with developing safe, compliant, insured commercial operations
- Oregon State University: research programs on UAV use in farm operations
There were many presentations about the research and use of robotics and UAVs in the agricultural industry. Highlights from the UAV industry included presentations on remote sensing and UAV-collected imagery data for examining crop health and pest infestation, research from OSU on the benefits of UAV-collected imagery to save farmers money through early detection of crop stress and minimization of chemical application, discussions of the FAA updates on UAV regulations from attorney Wendie Kellington, and a Drone Panel featuring experts from Yamaha Motor Corp., HoneyComb Corp., SkyWard, DroneDeploy, AirShip Technologies Group, MicaSense, Aerial Technologies Int., and SOAR Oregon.
We have attended a lot of conferences, trade shows, and expos over the years, but this Precision Farming Expo was really well done, especially for $120 entry fee for 2 days. The main hall for the presentations doubled as the “lunch hall”, and to keep things going, lunch was provided and speakers continued to talk during lunch. (Remember, we are obsessed with efficiency!) There were plenty of provided snack sessions and even a casino and open Irish whiskey bar party the first night. We also liked the Farmers Ending Hunger non-profit inclusion to the Expo. It was nice to see a humanitarian aspect to a show where everyone was there to discuss business.
All of this was very exciting and informative, and we can’t wait to attend again next year. However, when it comes to the use of UAVs for work,wemust keep in mind the current state of rules and regulations. The FAA regulations for UAV commercial use are very restrictive as they try to determine the best way to include UAVs in the National Airspace System. We want to run out there and start using UAVs in our surveys just as much as the next group, however, we also fly commercially and don’t want to come down in a fireball because some dingbat was flying his DJI Phantom near the airport when it malfunctioned and drifted off into airport space.
I know what you are thinking, “Come on, no one is dumb enough to fly next to an airport.” Wrong; case in point. Yeah, that Einstein thought it would be a great idea to put his DJI Phantom in the flight path of commercial airliners and take photos of them as they landed.
Our next blog post will feature a discussion on the FAA regulations as we understand it, and some of the fine details shared by attorney Wendie Kellington during her talk.
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