Unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, are famous for their role in international military operations, but there have been recent discussions about their potential uses much closer to home.
Simply put, a drone is an aircraft, sans a human pilot. Historically, drones are remotely controlled by a person on the ground, but some recent models can be controlled autonomously through computers.
The technology has been around for a number of years. The earliest concept is said to be traced back to the mid-1800s. Many people may recognize the pilot-less aircraft because it is the same technology behind remote-controlled aircraft often given to children — and adults — as gifts.
But the drone's usefulness may not be limited to just the military or for recreation.
One Vigo County farmer, Terry A. Hayhurst, could see some advantages to using drones in farming.
The owner and manager of Hayhurst Farms regularly follows the latest farming technology, and he told the Tribune-Star he believes the remote-controlled aircraft can be used to get an aerial view of crops to assess health and potential problems.
For example, it can check for drowned-out spots, look for pest problems and weed pressure, he said. This could be especially useful in the growing season, particularly in examining crops that are not easily accessible.
Those who grow corn crops, which typically grow very tall, could benefit from an aerial view.
"When you get more timely viewpoints, then you can make better decisions on how it might affect yield and things you can do to improve your yield," Hayhurst, who grows corn and soybeans at his farm, said. He operates 1,500 acres of crops and 30 head of Hereford cattle in his south-central Vigo County farm.
On his plans to get a drone for his farm, he said, "I haven't ruled it out, but I haven't looked at cost or options yet." He has "no definite plans to do it."
He would like to examine the costs and expenses, as well as the restrictions and privacy issues associated with the device.
"It's just new enough that there's not a whole lot of information," he said. But he believes that many larger farms may be more inclined to use it because of the amount of space they have to work on.
But some local folks already use drones, albeit not in farming.
The Office of Photography Services at Indiana State University has been using drones for photos and videos around campus for more than two years.
The university's first drone, a DJI Phantom, was purchased two years ago. A much-improved version, the DJI Phantom 2 Vision , is currently used by Photography Services.
"We purchased the drones to get photos and high-definition video from a unique perspective that we couldn't get any other way. We have used the images and photos in publications and video productions to help market the university," Tony Campbell, Manager of Photographic Services, stated in an email to the Tribune-Star.
"The biggest advantage is being able to capture smooth video from the air."
Campbell, who has worked as a photographer for ISU for more than 14 years, has discovered many advantages to using the drone.
"With the drone, we are able to see campus from totally unique angles and perspectives," Campbell said. "It opened up another world of possibilities. Video shots that previously would have required large crews and cost thousands of dollars can now be achieved (by) two people and a drone."
The drone has been useful in capturing images at major campus events and construction projects like the track and field facility, Campbell said. It was also used to shoot for a current project: the campus tour.
"When most people see the drone, they want to know how high it can go and how far it can fly," according to Campbell. "For our purposes at the university, though, we usually fly in the 10 to 60 foot range. This is the truly unique view for us - the view that can't be captured from the ground or through traditional aerial photography."
Although unsure of any disadvantages of using the drones, he urged drone operators to use it "sensibly and safely."
"They can be dangerous and can cause property damage and injury, so you must always consider that when using the drone. We try to avoid flying over people, and try to keep our altitude and speed low, and we try to only fly in good weather," Campbell wrote in the email. It is also important to manage the risk of mechanical failures that can cause the drone to crash, he added.
He thinks that drone use need to be regulated and he worries that as drones become a familiar machine in the sky, it could become disruptive and a safety issue. There is some responsibility that comes with owning and operating a drone, he added.
But there are also many pros.
"I can definitely see how drone use could be an advantage in agriculture, real estate, media and even law enforcement," Campbell wrote.
"As technology continues to move forward and the cost continues to fall, I think there will be a lot more drones in the sky."