Farmers have always had to be jacks of all trades. And over the past century, the list of skills required to keep a farm running smoothly has expanded pretty significantly. Now that list is set to expand again. One of those new necessary abilities will give many producers the right to sow a set of wings on their coveralls, just like air force pilots do. With the growing availability of aerial drones, precision farming is taking flight on farms all across North America.
Technology provider Trimble has recently decided to participate in that trend and take to the skies, offering an aerial drone specifically for agriculture. It’s called the UX5
Equipped with a camera, this drone can capture geo-referenced photographs and near-infrared images for NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) analysis. And it can be used for a variety of other jobs ranging from locating cattle in a pasture to creating prescription field maps.
“In 2011 we acquired a company out of Belgium called gatewing, explains Stephanie Spiller, technical solutions manager at Trimble. “Originally, the X100 (the company’s first UAV) was introduced to our geospatial division. One of the biggest requests that came in from that industry was can we do this for farming. Hence, our agriculture group has adopted the same technology with the UX5.”
By importing images captured by the UX5 into Trimble’s Business Centre software, producers can create a variety of different maps. “Once you’ve stitched all your images together you could export it and overlay it onto Google Earth or something like that,” notes Spiller.
Flying at altitudes between 75 and 750 metres, the UX5 is capable of taking high resolution images with a position accuracy of five centimetres (two inches).
“The accuracy of the plane is dependent on a couple of factors,” says Spiller. “How high you’re flying the plane is one factor, also the overlap of the pictures you’re taking and the area you want to cover. All those things factor into the accuracy of the data you’re collecting.”
When you open the box of a UX5 kit, you’ll find everything you need to take to the skies.
“You get the actual plane, the vehicle itself,” says Spiller. “With that comes all the electronics. To control the plane you get a ground control station, which is essentially a Windows 7 ruggedized tablet. You get the launcher that is used to put the UX5 into flight and all the software components. You get spare parts, the radio for communications and the camera as well.”
The price tag for all this equipment comes in at U.S. $50,999. Included with that is five days of training, enough to turn anyone into a competent UX5 pilot.
“It’s actually quite an extensive training,” she says. “You do two days of theoretical knowledge in the classroom, then you do three days out in the field practicing for different scenarios.”
To fly a UX5, operators pre-program a flight plan into the tablet and launch the plane, which is powered by an electric motor. The UX5 then follows a fully automated GPS-guided path from takeoff to landing.
“When you’re in flight, you do have a real-time display on the tablet, so you’ll be able to see all standardized flight information such as plane speed and GPS location as well as how many photos you’ve taken,” she adds.
“We recognize this product has great potential for more applications,” says Spiller. “I’m sure as the industry picks up this new technology there’ll be lots [more] suggestions.”
I guess you could say, the sky’s the limit for this technology.