Drones are a highly sophisticated combination of robotics, aeronautics, and electronics. Although drones have been around for years, agricultural drones have only recently become very popular and affordable to the general public.
Drones help keep us safe, provide images that we would normally not be able to see, serve as transportation vessels, and even impact the food we eat! Drones are used to monitor traffic conditions and survey crime scenes. They can also be fitted with special sensors and cameras that allow them to see things we cannot.
For instance, infrared sensors can detect body heat, which could be used by a drone in the event of a missing person! They can help monitor the health of crops, the food we eat. Drones can offer assistance to remote sites following a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, tornado, or flood (see Appendix 1 about South Carolina’s natural disasters of 2015), when roads become impassable or bridges get washed out. They can provide stunning videos of sporting events, fireworks displays, or nature (waterfalls, cliffs, mountains, wildlife, etc.). Some businesses are even promoting the use of drones for package and food delivery!
One industry where the use of agricultural drones is really taking off is precision agriculture. Drones can be used to survey vast areas of crops and, with the use of highly sophisticated sensors, to collect large amounts of data on the status of those crops. As much as we try to manage crops to make them as uniform as possible, there are many factors that can cause variability in crops within a field and between adjacent fields. From their bird’s-eye view, drones can measurably detect things we cannot always see with our naked eye, such as the presence of weeds, areas of a field that have too much or too little water, the overall health and growth of the crop, which areas might need fertilizer or lime, and when certain areas of the crop are ready to harvest before the others. The average American farmer produces enough food to feed 155 people for an entire year!!! It takes a lot of land, time, and hard work to achieve that level of production. Because of food producers are always looking for ways to help make farming easier and more efficient. Agricultural drones are a perfect tool to use in agriculture because they:
• Can cover large areas of land.
• Are much faster than walking or riding on a tractor.
• Require relatively little energy (battery or fuel).
• Are safer for the pilot, who stays on the ground.
• Are relatively inexpensive to own and operate.
• Can spray precisely with intelligent flow control