Farm by air: Agricultural drones take to the skies

The first drones designed for agricultural purposes are now being used on farms, marking the start of a move towards more advanced technology being used in the industry.

The unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) in question scans a field of wheat or oilseed rape and provides accurate data about which areas require fertiliser. This ensures the fertiliser is not over-used, reducing waste and saving money.

Developed by French company Airinov, the drone is already proving a hit with those who have tried it; in the last year more than 2,000 farmers have used the UAV, known as Agridrone, to cover more than 20,000 hectares of land.

France has embraced drones for civilian uses, such as aerial filming, far quicker than many other countries, so it is perhaps unsurprising that the country is the first to see drones used in food production.

“French farmers are the first in the world to use the new possibilities offered by drones in the fields, and it is not a coincidence,” said Airinov founder Romain Faoux, in a press release translated from French.

airinov-1

Airinov was keen to stress that the technology is designed to help farmers, rather than replace them.

It contains sensors to measure nitrogen concentrations – nitrogen is required for plants to grow, but too much can be damaging to the environment.

With an accurate picture of where and how much more nitrogen is required, farmers can mix appropriate fertilizer and apply it only where needed, saving them money and ensuring they comply with regulations.

The drone is designed to be simple to use, with accompanying software that has a clear, user-friendly display.  Farmers who purchase the drones are giving full training in its use, which takes just two days.

The first farmer to purchase an Agridrone, Jean-Baptiste Bruggeman, believes the drone has significant benefits for farmers.

“I am so convinced of the relevance of this tool that I decided to invest in a drone myself to perform flights on my farm and for other farmers,” he said. “This new technology will democratize because it is accessible to all farmers regardless of the size of operations, the geographical location and the age of the operator.”

airinov-2

Predictions about the role of these drones in farming have been circling for some time, but until recently the idea was largely a part of futurists’ talks at trade conferences.

Now with farmers seeing the benefits of the technology, it is likely that other drones for farming and agriculture will become available.

There is even hope that these technologies will help to attract younger people to the profession, which has suffered a decline in interest among many young people.

“The use of this new technology has the advantage of highlighting the appeal of farming and arousing the interest of young people,” said Bruggeman. “It can help maintain the earth for a new generation who might be tempted to leave this activity.”


Images courtesy of Airinov.


Clearing the way: Autonomous drones built with sensors to avoid objects

There are many hurdles manufacturers of drones face before they will be able to deliver packages using UAVS, but the solution to one problem may be just around the corner.

In fact, the solution could involve more corners as they attempt to stop drones from bumping into objects when flying autonomously.

One inventor is trying to achieve this by building a smart  drone that can sense objects around it and avoid crashing into them. The drone will have a series of sensors attached to it as well as having a wind turbine built in.

A flight controller system is being developed to stabilise the drone in high wind situations to ensure it can fly without crashing.

The founders say: “The flight controller is brain of GreenCopter that will determine copter’s behavior in terms of thrust, lift, agility, and system failure situations.

“The system will feature protection scheme in case one of the motor fail during the flight where GreenCopter will initiate return to launch coordinate and land safely.”

infadrone

The manufacturers say the drone will use wind and solar power to reduce the need to be charged from traditional power sources. It will also have the ability to conduct autonomous flights and also avoid collisions at the same time.

The drone will be able to land itself automatically and charge itself when it runs low on power or loses communications with the operator.

It is set to feature eight infrared and ultransonic sensors that will help the drone to avoid objects in its flight path. The sensors are set to be mounted at each side of the drone and be able to detect objects at a maximum distance of almost 200 inches.

The drone can carry up to 88lbs when it is flying.

infadrone2

The biggest challenge for the project at present is the ability to mount the wind turbine on the drone and ensure its balance during flight.

Potentially the solution to the problem is a algorithm in the flight controller and sensor system.

Writing on their their crowdfunding page, the founders of the project say: “The campaign is aimed to set new grounds to new breed of UAVs through an R&D process that leads to many classes of UAVs.

“The new classes will hold a key essence to any individual and that is simplifying tasks carried out each day.”


Images courtesy of GreenCopter