Agriculture Drone: From Sci-fi To Reality

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By 2050, the world population is expected to cross 9 billion people. This puts the agriculture community under immense pressure to increase the production of food exponentially. The agriculture sector is mired with many problems such as chaotic and extreme climatic conditions, labor shortages, inadequate amounts and inefficient application of fertilizers. Advanced technologies such as agriculture drone offer great potential in tackling several major or minor challenges. Farm drones are one of best examples of precise agriculture.

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Additionally, infection, diseases, allergies and other health problems due to chemicals in the form of fungicide, pesticide, insecticide etc., also contribute to the problem of low yields in farming environments. The significant applications of drones in agriculture are being used in irrigation, crop monitoring, soil and field analysis and bird control. There are different types of drones used in agriculture.

What is an Agriculture Drone?

An agricultural drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) used to help monitor crop growth, optimize agriculture operations and increase crop production. The drone can fly on a pre-set course with the help of an autopilot and GPS coordinates. It is fitted with sensors and digital imaging capabilities that can give farmers a better real-time picture of their fields. 

Using a farm drone and collect data from it, and analyzing it will help improve crop yields. These farm drones are updated with the latest drone technology. It also has normal radio controls. It can be piloted manually in case of a fault or dangerous situation. 

Sometimes the term UAV refers to the complete system, including ground stations and video systems. The term drone is used for model planes and helicopters with both fixed and rotary wings.

The drone provides an aerial view which can reveal many issues such as soil variation, irrigation problems, and fungal and pest infestations. 

The multispectral images show a near-infrared view as well as a visual spectrum view. This combination allows the farmer to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy plants, which is not clearly visible to the human eye. 

Thus, with these views you can assist in assessing crop growth and production. Surveying of the crops can be done any time.

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Agriculture Drone  – Advantages

  • It is used for better decision making.
  • Drone farming presents a safer and less stressful environment.
  • It can fly longer hours as long as the vehicle allows for it.
  • There is no factor of human fatigue. You don’t need a qualified pilot to fly it.
  • Drones can stay in the air for up to 30 hours. It can do the repetitive tasks, performing the precise, raster scan of the region, day-after-day, night-after-night in complete darkness.
  • It can also perform the same tasks in the fog and under computer control. 
  • Drones can perform the geological survey as well as the visual or thermal imaging of the region.
  • It can measure the cell phone, radio or TV coverage over any terrain. The drone pilots or operators can easily hand off controls of the drone without any operational downtime. The drones can have more pinpoint accuracy from greater distances.
  • Drones can help farmers to optimize the use of seed, water and  fertilizers.
  • It can assist farmers to react more quickly to threats such as weeds, pests, fungi.
  • Fixed wing drone can cover up to 10 times the acreage compared to a typical quadcopter which can cover in a single flight path.

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Basic Principle – How do Drones Work

The drone, also known as quadcopter, has four propellers that are vertically orientated and fixed. Each of these propellers has a variable and independent speed, which allows a full range of movements. 

The core components of a basic drone are as follows: 

Chassis: It is the skeleton of the drone to which all components are fixed. A tradeoff is done while designing the chassis. The tradeoff is done between strength and additional weight. 

Propellers: The four propellers affect load, which the speed it can fly, the drone can carry, and the speed it can manoeuvre. You can modify the length of the propeller. Longer propellers allow the drone to achieve more significant lift at lower revolutions per minute (rpm) but take longer to speed up or slow down. Likewise, shorter propellers can change speed quicker and thus are more manoeuvrable.

They, however, require a higher rotational speed to achieve the same power as longer propellers. This causes excess strain on the motor and thus reduces the lifespan of the motor. An aggressive pitch will allow quicker movement, but it will reduce the drone’s hovering efficiency.

Motors: There is one motor per propeller, and they are rated in ‘kV’. It effectively means the number of revolutions per minute it can achieve when 1 volt of voltage is applied to the motor with zero loads. A faster motor spin can give more flight power, but then it would require more power from the battery. This would result in less amount of flight time. 

Electronic Speed Controller (ESC): It provides a controlled current to each motor to produce the correct spin speed and direction. 

Flight Controller: The onboard computer interprets incoming signals sent from the pilot and then sends corresponding inputs to the ESC to control the drone. 

Radio Receiver:  It receives the control signals from the pilot. 

Battery: Generally, lithium polymer batteries are used due to their high power density and ability to recharge. 

Additionally, sensors can be used such as accelerometers, gyroscopes, GPS and barometers for positional measurements. Cameras are also frequently mounted for navigation and aerial photography.

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Drone Mechanism – How do You Fly a Quadcopter Drone

A drone is controlled manually with a handheld radio control transmitter. The hand held manually controls the propellers. Movements in different directions across the farmland can be controlled by the sticks on the controller. The trim buttons will enable the trim to be adjusted to balance the drone. Screens can also receive live video footage from the onboard camera and display sensor data. 

Further to this, onboard sensors can provide helpful settings such as; 

  • The auto altitude where the drone will move at a fixed height  
  • GPS hold, where the drone will remain at a fixed GPS position. 

The drone can be flown autonomously. Software for marking the GPS waypoints is used by the modern flight controllers. This will allow the vehicle to fly to and land or move to a set altitude. 

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Agriculture Drone

The infrared sensors in drones can be used for detecting crop health, enabling farmers to react and improve crop conditions locally, using fertilizer or insecticides.

  • Power and pipeline inspection: Drones can check many systems such as power lines, wind turbines, and pipelines. 
  • Soil and field analysis: Drones are instrumental at the beginning of the crop cycle. They will produce precise 3-D maps for early soil analysis, and assist in planning the patterns of seed planting patterns. Post planting, drone-driven soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management. 
  • Planting: Startups have created drone planting systems that achieve an uptake rate of 75% and decrease planting costs by 85%. These drones shoot pods with seeds and plant nutrients into the soil providing the plant all the required nutrients necessary for sustaining life. 
  • Crop spraying: The fields can be scanned and sprayed with  the exact amount of liquid, modulating distance from the ground and spraying in real-time for an even coverage. Due to this there is increased efficiency with a reduction in the number of chemicals penetrating groundwater. Experts have estimated that aerial spraying is about five times faster with drones than traditional machinery. 
  • Health assessment: It’s essential to assess crop health and spot bacterial or fungal infections on trees. By scanning a crop using both visible and near-infrared light, the drone carried devices can identify which plants reflect different amounts of green light and NIR light. This information can produce multispectral images that track changes in plants and their health. 
  • Crop monitoring: Vast fields coupled with low efficiency in crop monitoring creates s huge obstacle for the farmer. Monitoring challenges are exacerbated by increasingly unpredictable weather conditions, which drive risk and field maintenance costs.
  • Irrigation: Drones with special sensors can identify which parts of a field are dry or need improvements. 

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Drones have taken many domains by the storm, presenting endless possibilities, and agriculture has not been left untouched. Drones in agriculture is a superior advanced technology and are fast becoming a tool like any agricultural equipment. The use of drones in agriculture also improves management and results in better yield of the crops. 

In the next few years, nearly 80% of the agricultural market will consist of drones. The use of agricultural drones has ethical and social implications. 

Drones do not require permission to fly over another person’s property at altitudes of under 400 feet. The presence of microphones and cameras in drones has raised concerns regarding potential privacy violations. Regulations needs to be formulated and fine tuned in these contexts before going all out.

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Agricultural Drones laced with advanced imaging capabilities and sensors are a reality. They will be providing data and analysis to the farmer in the real-time. 

By using this data, a farmer can increase yields and reduce crop damage. There will be less use of pesticides, thereby reducing environmental damage.

Agricultural drone acts as a game-changer. It enhances a farmer’s ability to monitor and manage the critical aspect of farming which is otherwise impossible to sustain in a remote place. Drones, which began their journey as defense technology, will end up as a green-tech technology.

3 thoughts on “Agriculture Drone: From Sci-fi To Reality

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