In this edition of "View From The Top," we meet Greg Emerick of Sentera.
How have drones changed precision ag?
Having grown up as a farm kid, I find this technology exciting and impactful. I remember my grandfather pointing down the row and saying, “Go get that milkweed.” And I would run into the field to remove the offending weed. As time has gone on, we’ve had advances in management, machinery, chemistries and inputs. Precision ag allows us to track what goes in the field, but you don’t know how it emerged and when. Drones are a wonderful way to confirm your system is functioning the way you designed. The goal is to collect data someone can use to make a decision.
Company: Sentera began in 2014 and is a designer, developer and manufacturer of software, sensors and UAVs in the agriculture, infrastructure and public safety industries. The Sentera leadership team and employees have more than 200 years of combined experience with sensors, software, UAVs, data management and engineering solutions. Sentera’s equipment has been used to collect more than 25 million acres of images. The company has raised $8.5 million in capital from strategic investors.
Education: St. Cloud State University,
bachelor’s degree in aviation
What books managers must read: “The Storytellers Secret” by Carmine Gallo and “Start With Why” by Simon Sinek
Great leader: Abigail Adams, wife of John Adams
Favorite leadership quote: Abraham Lincoln said, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.”
Who in agriculture is using drones today? What stage of adoption are we in?
We are seeing a diverse cross-section of users, from family farmers to large agribusinesses to consultants to insurance providers. Over the past three years, we’ve seen an influx of interest. Many were early adopters who were learning how to take photos and use that information to create value. We’ve seen a distinct move in the market toward a more sophisticated user. Growers, businesses and consultants are realizing collected data creates another level of value. Some of the data can be used today, in the form of imagery, but future opportunity lies in the analytics performed on the collected data.
What data can be collected with a drone?
From a sensor perspective, until recently it’s been hard to do anything but take a picture, and candidly, that still provides a lot of value. Today, we build sensors that not only are being used to collect images but also collect data and process that data right on board the sensor, in real time, before the aircraft lands. The sophistication of the sensors dramatically shortens the time between sensing and response. Today, we can collect specific data such as high-resolution color, near-infrared, normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) data, thermal imagery as well as 4K video.
Did the evolving FAA regulations cause growing pains for the industry or did they create curiosity and unlock built-up demand?
The FAA had a big chore. It was charged with integrating a bunch of small airplanes that no one is riding in (drones) into the airspace where there are passengers. The FAA turned the challenge into an opportunity and created an atmosphere of safety. The regulations keep people focused on giving each other ample space to fly. In their process, FAA has managed to encourage people to seek education and be legally qualified to fly a drone. The regulations are giving users the peace of mind to confidently fly drones for commercial use.
As you launched the company, how did you keep your team motivated during setbacks?
Every organization has setbacks. What makes Sentera unique, as well as keeps the team motivated and encouraged, is the problems we are solving will be considered “industry firsts” down the road. Sentera engineers have a long list of drone-industry firsts, starting with the first gimballed camera on a drone. The entrepreneurial spirit runs deep, and being able to blaze new paths for such a dynamic industry is incredibly motivating.
What makes Sentera different from other companies in this segment of the industry?
Sentera is a total solutions provider, focused on the sensor and the data it collects. So we don’t just build airplanes, sensors or software. We do all of those things in concert together. Our team has 220 cumulative years of experience in unmanned aerial and sensing technologies. I am a commercially rated pilot and have been flying for 34 years. Every one of our sensors has an inertial measurement unit in it, allowing our sensors to know if it is yawing to the left or rolling to the right and adjusts to ensure imagery is crisp, clear and ultra-precise. We have a business-to-business model, working directly with implement manufacturers, seed producers, advisers and crop consultants to understand where the value lies for their particular applications. We sell our products on five continents and in more than 30 countries.
What’s next for drones in ag?
We have at least a 10-year horizon of data analytics that will be created, deployed and implemented. Many issues drones will solve in the future haven’t even been thought of today. You’ll see more data analytics and processing on the sensors before the aircraft is on the ground, which will continue to increase efficiencies and make way for new technologies to emerge. One Midwest customer is using a multispectral sensor to fly over fields and identify the weed species in the field and whether they are herbicide resistant.
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