AeroVironment is not the first to fly into the agricultural drone space, but the space has plenty of holes, and 20 years of building U.S. military UAVs has allowed the California-based company to design a durable, efficient fleet fit for farmland.
A tough farming environment demands a stout drone capable of simple use at launch, flight, landing and data collection. In a UAV market packed with piecemeal options for sensors, drone hardware and mapping tools, AeroVironment’s Quantix and Decision Support System offers a complete range of agricultural needs packed in one integrated system to meet the rigors of farmland use: drone, embedded sensors and analytics package.
Jonah Teeter-Balin, director of sales and marketing at AeroVironment, says growers need reliability flight after flight, particularly during crucial periods of the growing season: “A grower must be able to fly enough of a farm in one go to make a drone effective, and the data must be easy to upload and quickly returned. We provide a highly efficient, yet simple system.”
“Most drones have to fly close to the ground to get top resolution, but then it takes a long time to fly a 320-acre half section from low altitude. Our product captures the same resolution in one 45-minute flight. High or low altitude, we’ve got high resolution. We’re crisp and clear about how our product can perform and that’s not standard across the industry,” Teeter-Balin adds.
Solid marketplace data measuring UAV durability is lacking, but the topic is key for farming operations. Hot, muggy, wet, or windy conditions take a physical toll on aircraft, but AeroVironment’s designs mirror the needs of combat situations.
AeroVironment’s hybrid drone design has combined the ease of vertical take-off with the efficiency and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. A quad multi-rotor aircraft is typically easy to operate, but covers smaller acreage as it drains battery power. A fixed-wing aircraft covers far more ground because its aerodynamics efficiently generate lift, but landing and launch can be comparatively difficult. Most fixed-wings use a glide or stall landing, essentially bouncing relatively hard on the ground, which can put wear on the aircraft and sensors.
“We’ve got best of the quad and fixed-wing worlds. We launch and land vertically with four propellers, but we transition to a horizontal flight aircraft. That allows for great coverage and protects the investment by diminishing wear and tear,” Teeter-Balin explains.
AeroVironment’s Quantix is designed to cover 400 acres in 45 minutes with its standard battery. Prime image-taking time for a UAV takes place in a four-hour window while the sun is directly overhead from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. If a drone can only fly 50 acres before needing a battery change or recharge, the prime imagery window can max out at roughly 200 acres; a major waste to a grower, especially during a tight period of the crop season. For retailers responsible for scouting multiple farms and thousands of acres, the issues of time and efficiency are compounded.
“How frequently do you need to fly and how many acres do you need to cover? For a grower or a retailer, you’ve got to have a reliable product over a long period of time. Easy flight operation must be combined with easy data collection and quick processing. We know that’s what our customers expect,” Teeter-Balin says.
“At the end of the day, we make it easy for a first-time pilot to take off, operate, land and collect data with a drone that stands up to tough physical demands,” he concludes. “It’s extremely easy to use.”