Military Drones Make the Move to Agriculture

September 20, 2012 07:49 AM

By Lindsay Bowman, The Ohio State University

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are military aircraft that are now also being used to help growers be more precise in their farming. These flying robots could allow farmers to detect changes in water content, plant health and pesticide dispersal in their fields, according to researchers at Ohio State University.

Although pilot programs researching the technology are still under way, researchers from the Ohio State University Aeronautics and Astronautics Research Laboratory showcased UAV technology and its impact on precision agriculture during the three-day Farm Science Review, Sept. 18-20, near London, Ohio.

"While the military was the early adopter of this technology, the civilian applications in agriculture, search and rescue, and various other tasks is fast approaching," said Matt McCrink, a Ph.D. student in aerospace engineering at Ohio State and a research assistant to Jim Gregory, an assistant professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Ohio State.

Currently, the Federal Aviation Administration does not allow UAVs to operate in national airspace. However, the FAA has allowed special certifications for universities, including Ohio State, and other public institutions to test whether UAVs can safely be integrated into national airspace.

"The data gathered in these pilot programs will be instrumental in the development of regulations and commercialization of drone technology, which could significantly impact the cost of crop production," McCrink said. "In addition, monitoring and recording plant health, water usage and pesticide dispersal will allow for the creation of a historical database which farmers might use to project future crop yields and soil health."

Farm Science Review was sponsored by the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, OSU Extension, and the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center.

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