Category Archives: Drones

Drones on Demand – The Future of UAV’s in Ag

IDrones on Demandn the field of agriculture drones are still sitting on the precision runway.  Many in the industry still look upon them as more of a hobby than the agronomic workhorse they have the potential to be.

There are several reasons for such perceptions.  First of all many of such said perceptions are true. Unfortunately, for all intents and purposes, the only fully legal way to fly a drone is as a hobby and not for commercial purposes.  Hopefully, this will change but for now we have to sit back and watch the Federal Aviation Administration and the slow-moving wheels of government come up with their new commercial rules for drones.

The other big problem in making drones practical for agriculture is that they are still too small and inefficient to make an impact on a large scale.  That’s understandable given the restrictive regulatory black cloud still hanging over the industry.

But it hasn’t been all dark skies.  The silver lining has been that early drone adopters were not going to be denied.  The technology is too intriguing and holds too much potential even at an individual grower level. So in order to put an “early bird” in the air so to speak – the drones had to be small in order to comply with the only FAA rules currently on the books – the ones for hobbyists.

These early adopters have blazed a trail for what is to come.  Kudos for them. They have stoked a fire that is likely to become a full-blown inferno once the FAA finally does settle on its official direction for drones.  How drones are ultimately used and leveraged within agriculture is likely to be dramatically different than the rogue do-it-yourself environment that we’ve seen so far.

When drones get the green light from the FAA, the industry is then going to treat it as a real business.  That means being able to fly more than just a few hundred or thousand acres a day or being able to stay in the air longer that 30 to 45 minutes.

NetJets

NetJets Fleet (Photo Source: corporatejetinvestor.com)

One of the most likely future models for the agricultural drone business is one that mimics a Warren Buffet owned company called NetJets.  It’s just not practical for even most high-powered businessmen to own a multi-million dollar corporate jet by themselves.  But it does make sense to own or even rent a piece of one – in essence timeshares for jets.  Such a scenario makes total sense for producers who want access to the benefits of a drone but don’t want the overhead and time commitment.

Such businesses may already be forming – laying the groundwork and getting ready to shoot out of the gate as soon as the FAA clears the runway for drones for commercial agriculture purposes.  One early-bird company touting a “drone as a service” model is a company called Measure based out of Washington, D.C.  It looks to leverage drone resources across the country and even the world. And from the looks of their website these aren’t the “baby” drones we’ve seen in the past.  Take a look and I think you’ll get the idea – www.measure32.com.

Another company with a fleet of larger drones is one based out of Newport, Virginia called Digital Harvest.  It has already been providing imagery services for larger commercial farms and specialty crop operations with drones that stay in the air hours at a time – not minutes.  Check their services out at http://www.digital-harvest.net.

The irony in this whole drone discussion is that the real value of a drone is not the drone itself. No doubt their coolness factor shot them into the limelight, but it is their potential to vastly improve upon the data and how it is delivered that has both producers and professionals intrigued.  Let’s face it, fuzzy red pictures from satellites were not cutting the mustard when it came to delivering relevant in-season crop imagery.  The number and quality of the types of on-board sensors a drone can carry – especially larger drones – is about to explode.

For these reasons it is drone service companies that will likely have more impact on the direction of drones in agriculture rather than any single drone manufacturer. Get ready to book your season tickets because these companies will be coming to play ball.  It should be fun to watch.

Prime Meridian’s Free Flyover Program Takes Off

Is a drone a toy or a tool?

What truly is the value of the imagery and information that can come from this technology?

Can drone imagery help me farm better or offer better agronomic services?

In order to help growers, agronomists and agri-retailers answer these questions first-hand, Prime Meridian has launched its Free Flyover Program for summer 2014.

The program is simple. Fly one field FREE with an AgEagle UAV by simply calling 417-667-4471 and schedule your flyover.  After the flight, Prime Meridian will deliver to you a complete set of agronomic relevant imagery for that field – again all FREE.  And to cap it off you’ll receive a FREE 30-day subscription to MyAgCentral – your new home to access Prime Meridian’s new Precision Pixel imagery solutions and complete portfolio of precision services.

Fly one field for FREE with Prime Meridian!

Why are we doing this?

The biggest reason is education. Currently, there is an extreme amount of buzz in the industry regarding drones.  Unfortunately, there is also a lot of noise and conflicting claims about what this technology can actually achieve in a real production agriculture setting.

The reality of the situation is that not all drones are created equal.  And the same is true when it comes to drone imagery and imagery services. It is not as simple as snapping a “selfie” with your smartphone and posting it on Facebook!  It can get complicated, especially if you want to do anything with it – like write an in-season nitrogen prescription or compare differences between seed varieties.

Bottom line – there is a ton of value that can be extracted with this technology.  It is our job at Prime Meridian to show you how to do that in the smartest, simplest and most economical way possible. And although it may not be the Blue Angels, a personal flyover from an AgEagle still is worth seeing.  Call TODAY to schedule your flyover, because who doesn’t like FREE!

What Does Netflix and Drone Data Have In Common?

Drones are the current hot commodity in the precision agriculture world. In fact, many growers and ag professionals are acting more like a kid on the night before Christmas – they can’t wait to get their hands on one.

But what happens the day after Christmas? Will the precision ag crowd still be as attached to this technology or will it become just another discarded toy in the precision toy box?

The greatest threat of turbulence to the agricultural Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) market is not further FAA regulations or issues regarding individual privacy. The biggest issue is the data – the sheer volume of the data that is being collected by all those flights. How do you process it?  Where do you store it? And the biggest question very few have thought of is – how to upload it to the web.

Ag Eagle UAV

The answer to this issue may be similar to what a movie rental company did to rent DVD’s for those who lacked “good” internet services. That company was Netflix and their service was simple. They’ll send you your favorite movies to watch in the mail. When you’re done just drop them back in the mailbox and they’ll send you the next movies on your “must watch” list.

Those flying agricultural UAV’s face a similar dilemma. Lot’s of data and limited internet bandwidth in rural areas.

That’s why we at Prime Meridian have just introduced a new service called Precision Pixel Express which allows you to drop your day’s worth of flights in a pre-paid UPS envelope where they are sent to a high-speed upload center for processing. Your data is immediately processed and is viewable and downloadable through an online cloud service called MyAgCentral.  Your raw and processed data along with your data storage device is then also returned to you.

Stitched Collage Photo

The fact of the matter is that the UAV’s used for serious agronomic purposes take hundreds of infrared “snapshots” as they fly over a field. One UAV flight over a single 80 acre field can generate nearly 1 gigabyte worth of image data. In order for those images to become a whole picture of that field they must be woven together by a sophisticated software “stitching” program.

Many UAV buyers were told that they could “stitch” their own images on their own PC. This is true and can possibly work on a small scale. But the reality is that “processing” those images from that 80 acre field will probably take between 1.5 to 2 hours to stitch together on your own PC. That doesn’t even begin to count the time to geo-reference the images which is necessary in order to create a GIS layer to share with other mapping programs or create fertility recommendations.

That’s why, unless you have IBM’s “Deep Blue” supercomputer in your garage not many agricultural UAV owners are likely to chain themselves to their PC to make maps of fields flown. However, because of the lack of access of high speed Internet out in the country many thought they did not have a choice.  Now they do.  For more information on Precision Pixel Express and Precision Pixel imagery processing services, please contact Justin Ogle at Prime Meridian by calling 417-667-4471 or email him at justin@primemeridiandata.com.

Who knows? Maybe with all that extra time you can sit back, relax, pop some popcorn and enjoy a movie!

Drone Diaries – Our first flights with an “Ag” UAV

I guess you could call it our Orville and Wilbur Wright moment!  A few weeks ago Prime Meridian took to the air to discover what all the buzz is about regarding “agricultural” UAV’s – the so-called politically correct term for aerial drones.

Our bird of choice is the Ag Eagle – a four-and-half foot wide flying wing that sort of looks like a B2 Bomber on a mission from Whiteman Air Force Base.  However, its mission is not to deliver ordnance down the chimney of some Third World dictator’s summer home but rather to discover with a bird’s-eye view what is going on within a growing field.

Ag Eagle UAV Being Launched
The benefits we are finding because of that bird’s-eye view have been many and I have a feeling we are just getting started.  Our first flights involved taking pictures of wheat fields a week or two before flag leaf emergence.  Unfortunately, what we saw wasn’t very pretty but it brought into focus the toll of wet conditions at planting, a terribly cold winter and an usually dry spring.

The value of these images were evident immediately.  In some cases nearly 10 to 15 percent of the growing crop had been lost due to “drown-out” conditions at time of planting.  In the future we’re going to use these “images” to create prescriptions to make sure we’re not applying topdress N on bare dirt.  In addition these images have prompted a call-to-action that come fall after harvest there is a serious water management plan implemented on fields showing such losses.

Ag Eagle with Prime and APIS Crew

This is just the beginning of the possibilities we can glean from UAV’s in agriculture.  We’re going to be learning about making nutrient prescriptions from infrared images, monitoring things like herbicide and storm damage and getting a jump on pest and weed infestations. Like anything UAV’s are not a magic bullet but a tool – a tool that can spur more timely and even more common sense management decisions.  That’s what it is all about.

There is an old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees.  The same thing could be said of a 8 foot tall growing field of corn.  Bottom line – your view is limited.  It’s amazing how much more you can see from an altitude of 400 feet.  Stay tuned.  We’ve got a lot more flights to go this season and we’ll be reporting back on just what we find.