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Chris Anderson at Maker Faire Bay Area last month.

We all know what drones can do in the hands of the military and law enforcement. For recreational use, they’re fun to fly around with a GoPro strapped to their bellies. Commercial uses are still in their infancy. Congress passed a law last year requiring the FAA to open the skies to wider drone flights by 2015. Once the happens, the FAA estimates that within five years there will be about 7,500 civilian drones in use. According to Chris Anderson, CEO of 3D Robotics and founder of DIY Drones, one of the areas we’re likely see more drones is a place that doesn’t come to mind when we think about aerial robots: farms.

Chris gave a fascinating talk at Maker Faire Bay Area last month about a potentially lucrative and environmentally friendly use for drones on farms. Or above them.

Large agricultural operations use a sledgehammer approach to the application of pesticides and fertilizers, a chemical intensive approach that has ruinous impact on the soil, waterways, and biodiversity.

“Agriculture is a big data problem without the big data,” says Chris.

But a drone outfitted with an infrared camera that spots the chlorophyll signature of plants (sick plants have less chlorophyll) can fly over a field and pinpoint what areas need chemical inputs, allowing farmers to apply fertilizers and pesticides with greater precision. Better yet, Chris says, drones can spot plant disease before it starts so fungicides and herbicides don’t have be used at all.

Have a look:

3D Robotics’ CEO Chris Anderson: Farm Drones from Maker Faire on FORA.tv

Stett Holbrook

Stett Holbrook is editor of the Bohemian, an alternative weekly in Santa Rosa, California. He is a former senior editor at Maker Media.

He is also the co-creator of Food Forward, a documentary TV series for PBS about the innovators and pioneers changing our food system.


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