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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 is a senior editor at MAKE with abiding interest in food and drink, bicycles, woodworking, and environmentally sound human enterprises. He is the father of two young makers.

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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Comments

  1. trkemp says:

    Mr. Anderson seems unaware that a lot of data is already being collected and used. Agricultural machinery companies provide extremely accurate (sub-centimeter) resolution data on all sorts of things. They also provide data analysis tools for agricultural experts to review this information and control application of fertilizer, pesticides, herbicides, irrigation, etc. Agriculture is big business and they want to minimize application of chemicals while maximizing the output of the fields.

    Take a look here: http://www.deere.com/wps/dcom/en_US/products/equipment/ag_management_solutions/ag_management_solutions.page?

    Claiming that the agricultural industry has no data or tools to manage crops is either hyperbolic or indicates a woeful lack of research and knowledge on the part of 3D Robotics. Drones would allow the collection of additional near real-time data data at very low cost and I fully expect they will be widely used in the near future. I also expect that they will be provided by the existing companies that farmers are already using for agricultural management. 3D Robotics would be well advised to develop a relationship with these companies.

    1. Protoneer says:

      One can never collect enough data. :)

      Comparing Sales data from supermarkets to farming data will point out two totally different scales of data collection. Collecting more data will be good for farmers.

      This might also empower the smaller boutique farmers to produce better and less labour intensive produce.

  2. This would be great for small farms like the one that I’m starting.

  3. John F. Bramfeld says:

    “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.”

    Perhaps “ruinous” was not the word you meant. At least I hope not.

  4. Kelly says:

    The approach used by the large ag operations I’m familiar with are definitely not in the “sledgehammer” category. Farmers live and die by the condition of their farms’ soil, and chemical cost is extremely high (e.g. $114 per ounce for some of them). Farmers collect a large volume of data on what they do, and it’s used as inputs to the systems they use to apply fertilizer, irrigate, and so on. Nothing is wasted. What Chris Anderson is saying here makes a lot of sense, unless you put it in context of the facts.

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