Ag Drone Pilots: DIY or leave it to the Pros?
It never fails that when UAV folks get together, the conversation eventually turns to potential use cases and the matching business model. The big question is ... who will eventually be flying the majority of the UAV's, professional pilots or end-user agricultural experts?
In the winter of 2015-16, Canada witnessed the formation of considerably more agricultural UAV fleets than had previously been seen. Some, like Deveron UAS or Green Aero Tech, are developing large fleets with many professional pilots and a selection of different aircraft. But while those have been highly visible at trade shows and in media, there are many others who have quietly started developing more local markets as imagery service providers. We know of quite a number of individuals in Alberta who serve customers in a radius of only several hundred kilometres. I have no doubt the recent changes to the regulatory environment in the United States will see similar developments this coming winter.
When it comes to mapping missions as a data source, we predict that those will continue to be flown by professional UAV pilots for the coming years. The complexity not only of legal and safe flight of fixed wing models dictates that those flying them do so day in & day out. But many other smaller, multirotor aircraft are being purchased directly by farmers and agronomists. Many are only being used to create amazing seeding & harvest videos, but there are also many agricultural tasks being completed with them, such as basic crop scouting through aerial views and small-scale digital elevation modelling.
Markus Weber recently had a conversation with the good folks from AGflyers about this topic.
Listen to the full podcast below:
We anticipate that, while there is certainly a need for professional imagery service providers, the number of farmers and agronomists flying UAV's will increase along with several factors:
1. increasing safety and ease of use, due to amazing new flight control technologies
2. increasing specificity from sensors (identifying individual crop-growth issues)
3. significant improvements in efficiency, both in terms of flight and imagery analysis (eventually allowing real-time ground-truthing)
While far from scientific, our Twitter poll this week seems to confirm that many growers are interested in personally operating a UAV on their farm: