How are drones and robotics being used in agriculture? And how is this different from other farming robotics tools?

Drones are a fantastic crop scouting tool, allowing users to get a birds-eye view of their fields in minutes. There are numerous applications. Drones are used by growers and advisors to discover variability in their fields. Drones are used by agricultural insurers after weather events to help them evaluate crop damage claims by providing accurate crop damage maps. Agronomists also collect high-accuracy plant-vigor maps in order to develop nitrogen and pesticide prescriptions.

Instead of searching the entire field for problems, drone users can rely on an autonomous scout to get the lay of the land. They can map a full quarter section of land in about 20 minutes using an inexpensive drone, providing a real-time map that can instantly show variability and allow them to quickly identify problem areas and determine solutions.

Companies like Corteva, Syngenta, and Bayer have hundreds of drones in row crops, allowing their teams to provide better advice to their customers. Companies like Bowles Farming use DroneDeploy’s plant health tools in specialty crops to identify pesticide-required areas, assess drip irrigation leaks, and help determine when their cotton crop is ready for harvest. The farm can make better decisions, increase productivity, and ultimately lower costs by using highly accurate aerial insights.

Drones are the most common type of farm robot today, covering millions of acres of land each year. Other types of robots, such as autonomous tractors and specialist picking-robots, are emerging, but the costs are still high, and reliability is still being proven. Drones, when outfitted with the appropriate software, are the most dependable, cost-effective, and efficient robot investments in the industry.

What insights can DroneDeploy secure for farmers from its drone and mapping technology? How do ground robotics fall into this?

DroneDeploy provides its customers with information that can support production teams, retailers, field managers, research and development, and more. Some of our key features include:

  • Stand Count: Developed with Corteva Agriscience, Stand Count removes the need for manual, time-consuming, inaccurate stand counts. It provides a fully automated, offline workflow to evaluate crop emergence in minutes, able to do population counts for a 100-acre field in less than 30 minutes, all at the field’s edge.
  • Live Mapping Technology: DroneDeploy’s technology is fully capable of being offline and mobile, allowing the user to take the technology wherever it is needed. Users can create and view field-maps in real-time, allowing them to scout crops more effectively and make better decisions.
  • Crop Health Maps: These evaluate field variability with sophisticated agronomic indices, able to highlight damaged crops, areas infected with pests or patches with nitrogen deficiency. From these flight maps, users can break down the information for health analysis and quickly understand the acreage needing attention.

We’re going beyond aerial drones at DroneDeploy. DroneDeploy can now programme ground robotic routes and capture data from the ground, in addition to automating and processing imagery from drone flights. A drone, for example, can scan a field from above to identify problem areas, then automatically dispatch a ground rover to capture a more up-close, detailed overview of the problem – or even be sent to fix the problem (e.g. spray the area with pesticide). Aerial and ground robotics will eventually work together to collect data, analyse it with AI, and then act on it.

How does being a cloud and mobile-based platform benefit the agriculture industry?

Agriculture companies are increasingly expecting to run their operations from their smartphones. They are receiving information from the cloud, such as weather, soil data, and commodity prices, all at once, and are able to connect to pivot irrigator machinery to monitor equipment activity.

Drones can also be controlled by smartphones. Users can access high resolution screens that display live field data with a single tap – right from their pocket, whenever they need it. Cloud capability is critical for expanding smartphones’ computer and storage capabilities, as well as enabling users to instantly share data with any advisor anywhere in the world.

While mobile and cloud are critical for today’s workflow, it’s important that products also work without requiring internet access, given the realities of working in (often) far-flung fields. That’s why both DroneDeploy’s products LiveMap and Stand Count work totally offline at the field edge on iOS.