Drones Adapt to Civilian Life

12:28PM Jul 17, 2014
( Ben Potter )

The technology could see a non-military injection of $82 billion into the U.S. economy by 2025, with the lion’s share going to agriculture.

Drones are a hot new technology for the agriculture industry. But as Tim Spalla explains, the idea of an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) is anything but new.

"The history of drones in the military go back a lot farther than most people realize," says Spalla, a special projects manager at CSG solutions. Spalla and CSG CEO Rob Ferriol, were featured speakers at Farm Journal’s Drone Fly-In event on July 17 in Heyworth, Ill.

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That history stretches all the way back to 1849, Spalla says, when Austria loaded hot air balloons with an explosive payload during a siege of Venice, Italy. (It was a spectacular failure – with half of the balloons blowing back toward the Austrian troops.) Later wars, including the Civil War, Spanish American War, WWI, WWII, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War all the way to the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, have seen drones advance from the first primitive balloon models to sophisticated machines equipped with hyper-spectral sensors, HD video capability and deadly Hellfire missile payloads.

All said, it’s not surprising drones are often wrapped in controversy, Spall says.

"Public perception usually tends to be negative," he says.

But drones are set to enjoy a more peaceful existence stateside, especially pending FAA clarification on rules for commercial use. By 2025, the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) predicts an $82 billion injection into the U.S. economy, with $75 billion of that anticipated to land in the agriculture industry.

Spalla says the technology has spiked interest in numerous industries that would each benefit from having an "eye in the sky" – aside from agriculture, he’s seen potential in areas such as mining, weather research, firefighting, search and rescue, filmmaking, construction, real estate, construction, conservation and much more.

Ferriol says like any other technology, drones have earned their controversial status but can be used for good, especially in industries such as agriculture.

"At the end of the day, it’s just a vehicle," he says. "The question you should ask is, what capabilities do you need? Do you need photos? Infrared imagery? Video? Then ask how you can deliver those capabilities to your field."

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