Not long ago, UAVs were a new technology – admired by many and successfully used by few. Fast forward to today, and drones have found their way onto numerous jobsites, and are successfully being used for numerous applications. However, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, the story of UAV technology on the jobsite likely won’t ever end; instead, it will continue to grow, change, and evolve.
Because of this, RDO Equipment Co. has continued to make significant moves in the UAV space. Our team strives to make the technology and products accessible to more customers, expand offerings to provide more choices, and ensure we’re supporting software solutions that provide more opportunities for our customers to easily manage and use their data. One particular area of focus has been agriculture.
Late last year, RDO Equipment Co. expanded its UAV offerings when it announced its new partnership with Sentera, a UAV-focused company offering image and data solutions for drones. The highlight of this announcement was the addition of the DJI Phantom drone, a quad-copter unit, available at select RDO Equipment Co. stores throughout the country. Read the full news release or watch the video to learn more about the Sentera partnership and products.
Starting this month, RDO Equipment Co. is further expanding UAV offerings by adding to the current lineup of senseFly units to include the new eBee SQ, a drone specifically designed for agriculture. This improved fixed-wing hand-launched drone is capable of 400 acres per flight and carries the popular new Sequoia multispectral sensor. The eBee SQ is capable of infrared and visual spectrum crop inspections simultaneously, and is now available at select RDO Equipment Co. and RDO Integrated Controls stores in all regions. For more info about the senseFly eBee SQ, watch this video.
Meeting the changing needs of customers and an ever-evolving product line doesn’t come without foresight. Looking ahead, the RDO precision agriculture team has five predictions as to what the future holds in UAV technology for farmers.
1. Field Analysis
Continued advancement in field analysis, such as the ability to measure soil characteristics, will allow farmers to make effecting planting and in-season decisions.
2. Water Management
UAV technology has already begun to see use in water management applications, including identifying areas of water stress. Continued growth in this area will offer more in-depth analysis to help with major operational components like precise irrigation scheduling.
3. Crop Health
Evaluating crop health is likely where UAVs will see the most use. Advancements in imaging and analysis will allow growers to identify, assess, and address various crop health issues.
4. Application Technology
While application technology in larger drones is available now, the ability in smaller UAVs is still a few years away. Working prototype systems in development are larger than most existing agriculture drones, which require additional certification to operate.
5. Automated Equipment
In the future, UAV technology will also likely become more integrated with other autonomous equipment. Imagine the efficiency that could be achieved by integrating fully autonomous drones with autonomous tractor technology.
While some of these advancements are likely still a few years from realization, there’s still a lot happening with UAV technology in the present that can significantly impact your business and bottom line. Contact the team at your nearest RDO Equipment Co. or RDO Integrated Controls store to find out more about UAV technology and how it can enhance your current farming operation.
See complete UAV products, and learn more about service and support offered from RDO Integrated Controls.
Leap Second - What, Why?
As you celebrate the end of 2016 and the clock counts down this year New Year’s Eve – you’ll need to add one more second. International Earth Rotation and Reference System Service (ERS) announced there will be an extra second added to the end of this year, so clocks will read 23:59:60 on December 31, 2016. These leap seconds are occasionally needed to ensure Coordinated University Time (UTC), the official measure of time, stays in sync with changes in the Earth’s rotation.
UTC or Universal Coordinated Time is the combination of Universal Time (UT1) and International Atomic Time (TAI – in French – Time Atomic International – The Standards Bureau is in Paris, France).
UT1 (Universal Time), also known as Astronomical Time - is the time it takes for the Earth to rotate on its own axis. It is easy to come to the conclusion that the Earth’s rotation is constant. However, it actually fluctuates slightly due to a variety of reasons such as wind, the friction of tidal currents flowing along the bottom of the oceans, ocean currents in general, and the motions of the Earth’s fluid core. Currently, the length of a day is about 2 milliseconds (two one-thousandths of a second [0.002 of a sec or 2 milliseconds] in 200 years) longer than it was in the early 1800’s.
Who or what cares? GNSS systems care about UTC - because they use timing to calculate position.
The UT1 part of the UTC solution loses about 2 seconds per 1000 days in relation to the TAI.
International Atomic Time (TAI) is the second element of the UTC. TAI is the output of 200 highly precise [0.000000001 seconds – (known as a nanosecond) per day] atomic clocks worldwide. These clocks are very precise, even more precise than the rotation time of the earth.
To keep the UTC within 0.9 seconds of the UT1 - leap seconds are periodically added to the UTC. There have been 25 leap seconds added to the UTC since the current system began in 1972. They are applied on either June 30th or December 31st.
What does this mean for TOPCON GNSS Users?
Several of these leap seconds have occurred since Topcon has been utilizing GNSS for positioning solutions. Currently, Topcon has firmware upgrades available for the current GNSS receivers. However, many of the older units will not get a firmware upgrade for the upcoming leap second.
How will this affect your operation?
It may cause you to have to clear the NVRAM on January 1st.
It might take a bit longer to initialize.
There might be a few older receivers that this leap second will cause to become inoperable.
It is hard to predict since there is a very precise oscillator (clock) on the GNSS boards that uses the UTC time signal from the satellites. If this oscillator, or clock, is close to the limits - then this one-second change could push it over the limit of functionality. If so, your system will not be able to initialize.
Our Solutions Center and team of experts are available to answer any questions you may have related to the leap second. Contact us via email or phone (877-90-RDOIC).
From the Ground Up to Scaling Up
A dozen individuals from 10 states in industries spanning general construction to roadbuilding, mining to emergency response, engineering, and surveying – what could they possibly all have in common?
On October 13 and 14, at a rural farm site near Billings, Montana, this group of professionals came together to participate in an event focused on one popular topic: Drones.
Led by the team from RDO Integrated Controls, 12 seasoned drone experts, across numerous industries, gathered to be part of a unique event and pioneering experiment in the drone world. An event and experiment devised from simple conversations between Sean Erickson, Technology Support Specialist with RDO Integrated Controls, and a few of his customers, drone leaders in their respective fields.
Setting the Scene
RDO Integrated Controls sells and supports senseFly, a leading UAV manufacturer, and its eBee and albris drones. With the level of expertise and leadership it provides to professionals interested in UAV technology, RDO Integrated Controls makes it a mission to have a knowledgeable team dedicated to this area, as well as resources customers need to successfully implement drones in their businesses.
Erickson had received a request from a customer to create a “how-to” type document based on drone applications. After thinking about it and discussing the concept with a few veteran drone customers, Erickson had a spin-off idea.
“Instead of creating a document with info, tips, and best practices, I started thinking, what if we held an event that would bring together drone experts across different industries to talk about applications, discuss ideas, and share knowledge,” he said.
Erickson began pitching the idea to experienced drone customers, particularly those with hundreds of flights under their belts. As interest grew and discussions continued, ideas started snowballing. One idea, in particular, became the basis on which the entire drone event would be based.
eBee to the 10th
“I knew there were cases of companies putting multiple drones in the air at one time,” Erickson said. “But I hadn’t seen a fully-coordinated drone mapping mission with multiple aircraft.”
Theoretically, Erickson was certain a planned multi-drone mission would work. And he felt the event would be an opportunity to put his theory to the test.
“At first, we thought about trying to fly two drones simultaneously,” Erickson said. Some customers were already doing this regularly so he then thought about going for five. Then, Erickson said, the thought was, “If we can do five, why not go for 10?”
Furthermore, 10 was an easy number to show scale and thus, 10 eBees flying simultaneously became the final goal for the event.
An event that had shaped up as an opportunity to prove Erickson’s original theory.
An event that had several drone professionals eager to take part in this first-time experiment.
An event, which became known as the eBee to the 10th, that was about to come to life.
Bringing It All Together
Day one of the eBee10 was focused on discussions about all-things in UAV industry including field gear, Part 107 testing, and data processing. Every attendee brought a unique topic to present, a format Erickson devised as a way to steer clear of lecture-style learning and instead encourage discussions and sharing of knowledge between attendees.
It was on the morning of day two that the experimental mission was scheduled. But before the group could head out into the field and test Erickson’s theory, the flight plan had to be finalized.
“Late on Thursday night I, my colleague, Dennis Louton, and two of our attendees, Dennis Ryan of Vertical Sciences, Inc., and Jordan Kessel of Baranko Brothers, Inc., created the flight plan,” Erickson said. They continued work into the early morning hours, testing the plan in the simulator and tweaking it until they had the final, working flight plan.
The following morning, Erickson and Ryan presented the plan to the team, at which time Erickson said he gave all attendees the chance to withdraw from the experiment.
“I knew what we were doing was unprecedented,” he said. “If, after seeing the plan and simulation, anyone felt it was too risky, I wanted them to have the opportunity to bow out.” Instead, the group was more excited than ever, and at 9 a.m. they headed to the site.
The test site was a private farmstead with 125 acres of mapped flight area. Erickson arranged permission to use the site while Dennis Ryan, as air boss, filed the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) as well as notified the local air tower of all details related to the test, including closing out the NOTAM when the mission was complete.
The launching and landing was done in two groups of five drones. After the first group launched, the second was launched a few seconds later, and all 10 were in the air simultaneously performing a single mapping mission, and controlled by a unified Ground Control Station. Five pilots were responsible for launching, landing, and observation, while five controlled the flight plan via onsite computers. Erickson was onsite safety office and Louton served as logistics officer, providing equipment and technology support. Radio communications kept the pilots in touch with each other and the local air tower.
The result? The eBee drones flew the flight plan, which covered 125 acres in seven minutes.
“It was quick and effective,” Erickson said of the experiment. “We showed that 10 drones could execute a flight plan simultaneously.”
While Erickson’s experiment proved what he originally set out to do, it also demonstrated another important concept: scalability. He explained, “To see 10 drones cover 125 acres in just seven minutes, shows that it’s possible to cover 1,000 acres in one hour. That’s huge.”
Generally speaking, a single UAV can map about 100 acres per hour. Substantial, for example, when comparing the time spent for a crop scout to walk fields or a crew to survey a jobsite. But to show the significance of the scalable opportunity provided by multiple drones, Erickson used an example of an emergency response scenario.
Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Imagine a disaster of such magnitude today. It would require a full-scale emergency response plan, which could include UAV technology; for example, searching for survivors using heat-mapping capabilities of drones.
See below to see the scalability opportunity with drones in this scenario:
640: Acres in a Square Mile
170: Square Miles (Land) of the city of New Orleans
108,800: Acres in the city of New Orleans
1,088: Approx. hours it would take one UAV to map the city
45: Approx. days it would take one UAV to map the city (assuming 24-hour days)
108: Approx. days it would take one UAV to map the city (assuming realistic 10-hour days; daylight)
108: Approx. hours it would take 10 UAVs to map the city
4.5: Approx. days it would take 10 UAVs to map the city (assuming 24-hour days)
10: Approx. days it would take 10 UAVs to map the city (assuming realistic 10-hour days; daylight)
It’s easy to see the potential impact of a multi-drone flight in this type of scenario.
And certainly this shows possibilities for companies of all sizes to grow with the ability to get more done, faster, using multiple drones. But, Erickson also took into consideration the hidden value in these results. How could this info apply to construction, roadbuilding, or engineering companies not necessarily looking to grow or interested in trying to operate multiple drones?
One example he noted was in partnerships between companies saying, “A construction company, an engineering firm, and a surveyor could team up for a project that they, individually, may not have been able to do.” This co-op model he describes would enable small companies to win projects against larger, full-service companies, potentially opening the doors to new clients and diversification of services.
While the event has ended, Erickson says his and his colleagues’ work is far from over. As he has begun analyzing the flight data from the eBee10, he has already found some areas that could be improved – likely, in the eBee10: Version 2.
“Yes, we definitely plan to hold another event like this,” an enthusiastic Erickson said.
Until that date, Erickson has stayed in touch with all engaged customers via a MeetUp website. Both eBee10 attendees and customers who were interested but unable to make it to the event have access to the site, designed with Erickson’s original goal in mind – to bring together drone experts to talk about applications, discuss ideas, and share knowledge.
To say UAV technology is affecting the world is an understatement. Across numerous industries, drones are making work safer, faster, and more accurate than ever imaginable. As knowledge continues to grow, so too will the possibilities – and opportunities.
For more information on drones for use in agriculture, construction, and other industries, contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls.
5 Reasons the TopNETlive Expansion is Important
RDO Integrated Controls has completed its fourth Topcon TopNETlive network station in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area, and activated its 15th network station across the state of Minnesota. This news follows months of hard work; in April, RDO Integrated Controls expanded the TopNETlive network into five new states: Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
The growth and expansion of the network has a major impact on customers who rely on TopNETlive as part of their daily business. It allows users to connect to a true VRS network when available and provides the option to select a single baseline RTK correction in an area where signal quality is degraded. Subscribers have the ability to connect quickly to a reliable network with 24/7 accessibility, and there are no bases for users to set up and localize on their own.
For those in industries such as surveying, construction, agriculture, and GIS who aren’t yet utilizing the network but are interested in the opportunity, here are five reasons why this latest TopNETlive expansion is significant.
1. More Coverage
By adding a fourth network station in the Twin Cities, TopNETlive coverage increases to 80% of the entire metro area.
With the 15th station now active in the state, Minnesota has added full network coverage to major cities including Duluth, International Falls, Mankato, Marshall, Moorhead, Rochester, and Virginia. These cities were previously not covered by the network but now offer complete coverage.
2. Largest Network
In addition to the expansion into Minnesota, RDO Integrated Controls offers TopNETlive coverage in California, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming.
The added coverage builds on the existing network already established in 19 other states, making TopNETlive the largest network in the country with more than 700 reference stations.
3. Unmatched Offerings
There isn’t another network out there with the national coverage, reliability, and accuracy in machine control as offered with TopNETlive.
Furthermore, Topcon Positioning Systems works closely with RDO Integrated Controls to provide advice on network design, antennae installation, and positioning to ensure the highest-quality, professional grade, real-time GNSS reference network services.
4. Future Opportunities
TopNETlive is a network cooperative managed by Topcon Positioning Systems and its global dealer network. The unique nature of this cooperative enables clients and users the opportunity to invest in the network. Those who choose to do so receive benefits from the cooperative that enable them to recoup their initial investment in less than three years, and maintain the benefits as long as their reference stations are active in the network.
Our team’s goal is to continue growth and expansion of TopNETlive in Minnesota, and have 100% of the Twin Cities metro area and a number of other cities covered by spring 2017.
5. Numerous Applications
The TopNETlive network is practical for several applications across numerous industries.
Its accuracy and availability have opened up the network to be used on high-profile construction projects, from large scale highway construction to airport runways. Professional land surveyors and engineers can save time and enhance safety on the jobsite by using the TopNETlive network. And the opportunities the network offers in cropping, fertilization, and land-leveling applications is contributing to its rising popularity in precision agriculture.
As coverage continues to expand in the TopNETlive network, the possibilities will grow for current RDO Integrated Controls customers, with doors opening for other professionals seeking time-saving, accuracy-boosting tools on the jobsite.
Mortenson Construction finds success with UAS technology on the jobsite
Mortenson Construction is one of the nation’s top builders and a company known for using leading-edge technology. Earlier this year, the company seized the opportunity to test UAS technology as a way to improve on the traditional surveying process.
Seeking a Better Way
From bridge inspection to agricultural scouting to disaster response, curious and innovative professionals, across numerous industries, are discovering the practical business benefits of drones. Taylor Cupp, Assoc. AIA, LEEP AP BD+C, is one of these people.
As Project Solutions Technologist for Mortenson, Cupp is involved in several types of projects and, throughout the years, has always looked for ways to be more efficient and effective on the jobsite.
In March of 2016, Mortenson began a project with a longtime solar client. The scope included a site prep phase that called for moving of 750,000 cubic yards of earth. Because of the large amount of earthmoving involved, the density of survey data, delivery timeframe, and data collection time were all concerns.
Another challenge: existing vegetation and other site characteristics would limit on-foot and vehicular access to certain areas for staking, further compromising the data accuracy of the overall site. Cupp knew there had to be a solution.
Diving Into Drones
Flash back a few years, a friend of Cupp’s was showing off his new drone.
“I remember thinking about all the possibilities I could see it having on the jobsite,” Cupp recalled.
Fast-forward to the 2016 solar project, and this was a chance to put that hunch to the test on the site prep survey work.
Mortenson already had a relationship with RDO Equipment Co., so Cupp knew RDO Integrated Controls offered drones and expertise in UAS technology. He reached out to General Manager, Adam Gilbertson who was excited for the opportunity to show Mortenson senseFly’s eBee.
Gilbertson and three of his colleagues joined Mortenson on the project site to begin the experiment.
Put to the Test
Mortenson relied on machine-controlled site grading for a quality check. Initial survey work was done to establish control. Then, it was time for the eBee to take flight.
The eBee flew the site five times, with each flight lasting 36 minutes. In total, it generated approximately 2 billion data points at a density of 2-centimeters per pixel. According to Cupp, this was an “astronomically” denser amount of data compared to the terrestrial method, which pulled data points at only every 10 to 15 feet.
Aerial imagery was gathered and processed with photogrammetry technology to generate topographical data of finish grade and rough grade of the site. Thanks to the quick turnaround of the eBee, Mortenson was able to collect and analyze the data that same day.
With Flying Colors
In comparison to the terrestrial survey method, the eBee showed topo density improvement of 300 times, an 84% topo accuracy improvement, and a 40-hour time savings.
While Cupp says these metrics were crucial in proving the value UAS technology brings to the jobsite, the real value came from something immeasurable.
“Where we saw the major value of UAS was in the real-time assessment and availability of data,” he said. The technology feasibly allows information to be captured throughout the life of the project. The constant flow of information enables more informed decision-making and adjustments by the team. It also allows consistent and frequent progress tracking.
He added that he’s very optimistic about the FAA’s new Part 107 rules for commercial drones making the use much more obtainable for companies looking to leverage the potential of drones on construction sites. One has to wonder if drones in general are on the path to becoming less of a luxury and more of a standard tool in every company’s toolbox. If you ask Cupp, Gilbertson or any of their colleagues, the answer is a resounding, “Absolutely.”
The June 2016 update to the FAA’s Part 107 regulations for flying drones is just one factor contributing to the increase of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use in several industries, including agriculture. But that’s only half of the story. As anyone in business knows, in order for a tool to make sense on a worksite, it first has to make sense on the bottom line.
In order to see a return from a drone investment on your farm, you need to know how to use a drone to save time, improve efficiency, and increase yields. Then, the real key to unlocking the true value of a drone comes from understanding the technology behind it.
The high-quality images produced by drones are used for everything from pre-season scouting to monitoring crop health to identifying equipment issues. Drones produce three common image types:
-RGB images are similar to photos from a regular camera. They’re easy to understand, even for the novice drone user, but are the least descriptive of the three types.
Near Infrared (NIR)
-NIR provides images with higher levels of detail than those produced by RGB by utilizing color bands outside the light spectrum visible to the human eye.
Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI)
-NDVI uses both visible and near-infrared sunlight reflection to measure biomass (vegetation). Similar to NIR imagery, NDVI provides a higher level of detail than RGB images.
Each of these image types play an important role in the various applications for which drones are used.
The coverage area, vantage point, and speed a drone provides makes it a great tool for pre-season scouting. Using standard RGB imagery, the drone can produce 3D maps used for soil evaluations, topography reviews, and identification of drainage issues.
By gathering, reviewing, and evaluating this mapping data prior to planting, you only have a complete view of the whole area, but you may be able to identify problems and adjust planting strategy before, rather than during, the season.
The primary advantage of drones over a manual scouting process is speed. An area normally monitored by a crop scout in several hours can be covered in a single, quick drone flight. This allows for one of the most common uses of drones in agriculture – ongoing monitoring of crop health throughout the season. NIR imagery is most valuable in this process for several reasons.
First, NIR images show heat so they can easily identify areas of plant and water stress. Their high level of detail offers additional applications such as weed detection, defining management zones, evaluating effectiveness of ponding and water management, and quantifying machinery-induced crop limiting factors. This ability to identify concerns and intervene quickly is directly linked to a better year-end harvest.
There are uses for RGB images in-season as well. They’re often used to identify planter skips and evaluate areas of lost production, allowing you to correct the problems.
In addition to their immediate help before and during the season, drone use can be beneficial over long periods of time. Like RGB and NIR, NDVI images can also show ponding, help assess crop vigor, and show changes in field conditions over time.
NDVI images measure the amount of biomass or “greenness” of a plant and create an index, which is then compared to areas of less vegetation and more vegetation. The numbers range from -1 to +1, with high amounts of biomass and green vegetation having increasingly positive numbers.
NDVI values are very sensitive to anything that affects light, such as haze, clouds, or even soil. For this reason, NDVI images are most effective in optimum conditions.
Bottom line: A drone is a helpful tool that can provide quality data and images but it’s up to you to analyze data and use it to make the best decisions for the crop and your farm.
About The Author
Nate Dorsey is an Agronomist for RDO Equipment Co. and based in Moorhead, MN.
Contribution to this article provided by Matt Hayes, Mapping Product Supervisor, and Bill Edmonson, UAV Product Specialist, both for RDO Integrated Controls and based in Billings, MT.
Bridge inspection traditionally requires significant time and manpower. Closing down lanes on a bridge puts a strain on traffic; on smaller or remote bridges, the only option may be ladders or rope access (basically repelling off the edge of the bridge).
RDOIC became involved through our relationship with Collins Engineers, Inc., who is responsible for a lot of bridge inspection work for MnDOT.
Collins Engineers is very familiar with drones and their capabilities on bridge inspections. In Phase I of the project, they utilized a drone where the camera was suspended underneath the unit. For Phase II of the project, they determined that they needed a drone with additional functionality and capabilities. They found the albris by senseFly. Along with representatives from senseFly, our team was on site during the inspections and were even responsible for some of the flying.
The benefits of the senseFly albris were noticed immediately. There was no need to close the bridge for traffic and no need for anyone to repel off the bridge. Utilizing the UAV enabled Collins to inspect the bridge up close and the high-quality imagery made identifying problem areas very straight forward.
Being involved with this project was a great learning opportunity. One of the highlights was watching the UAV impress everyone involved – as we completed the flights, everyone involved really began to realize how drones could truly help in the field and aid in safety and efficiency for both the inspectors and those utilizing the bridge.
UAV usage is expanding every day in new ways, shapes, and forms – industries that may not have initially seen a use for UAVs could soon be rethinking what UAVs could possibly make easier.
Contact our experts for any questions you have regarding the use of drones in your next project.
Three Things You need to Know To Get Ready for Your Part 107 Test
Three Things You need to Know To Get Ready for Your Part 107 Test
The Federal Aviation Administration's (FAA) new small drone rule –known as Part 107 – went into effect on August 29. If you’re confused by what Part 107 means to you, we’ve provided three key components to help make sense of it:
Find your test Location
Don’t be in the dark when it comes to finding your nearest testing facility. Check out the official list of FAA testing locations.
One unique service that RDO Integrated Controls offers is an FAA Compliance Package. These customers have access to an FAA consulting team, which includes a personal Ground School instructor available to answer your questions and guide you through your preparation, as well as keep customers informed about changes and announcements from the FAA and Part 107 Compliance tips and tricks.
To learn more about the RDOIC FAA Compliance Package, or for any UAV-related questions, contact us today.
To Rent or Buy?
Why You Shouldn’t Overlook Renting Machine Control & GPS Equipment
We’re in the heart of construction season, a time many companies are asking themselves if they need to rent or buy more equipment to meet project demands.
This same question is commonly asked when thinking of expanding GPS and Machine Control equipment. But with this type of equipment, the questions are a little more specific:
What’s the amount of work ahead?
What’s the current financial situation?
What’s my cost of ownership vs. cost of renting?
GPS and Machine Control rental can be a very viable solution and add profit to your bottom line.
Here are the top 5 reasons for renting 3D Machine Control and GPS equipment:
Equipment Trial: Would you buy a car without test driving it first? When you rent, you can test out one or several models to make sure you find the perfect piece to fit your needs.
No Depreciation and Increased Borrowing Power: When renting, you don’t have to worry about annual depreciation associated with owning equipment. You can always rent the latest, up-to-date equipment in order to be more efficient on your jobsite. Reducing balance sheet liabilities will offer a better asset to liability ratio for your business.
Up-to-Date Equipment: In order to succeed in today’s competitive environment and be as efficient as possible, you must have the latest equipment. Many businesses cannot afford to buy the equipment necessary to gain a competitive advantage and that’s where rental can be a great solution.
Flexibility: With an extensive machine control rental fleet at your disposal, you can take on more projects that require a wider variety of equipment during peak times.
No Capital Investment Needed: Rental expenses can be billed back to the customer or deducted annually as a business expense. Buying a piece of equipment, however, is a capital expense that must be treated as such when taxes are due.
Until recently, unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), or drones, were primarily viewed as either a “cool toy” or the “latest and greatest” piece of technology only owned by the largest and most cutting-edge farms.
As the technology has become more accessible, drones can now be considered a practical business tool for all growers, including hay and forage producers.
Drones can, in a single flight, monitor crop health over hundreds or even thousands of acres. As a result, they’re enabling hay and forage professionals to spend less time on manual scouting and reacting to problems and more time proactively addressing field needs before major issues arise.
While UAS technology is appealing, many are wary because they feel they lack the skills to use one effectively in their business. Before making the leap into drone ownership, every grower should consider the following key areas: cost, regulations and personnel.
There are several options for low-cost drones purchased from big-box retailers. While the low price tag may be attractive, these units are designed for recreational rather than professional use.
Software, high-quality cameras with the option to measure different bands of light, ease of use and overall durability often aren’t part of the package.
On the other hand, drones engineered for professional use are equipped with nearly everything needed to begin using them in a farming operation out-of-the-box. These units are engineered well, include flight-planning and image-processing software and often have great warranties and optional insurance plans.
When purchased at a reputable dealership, they also likely come with service and training from a knowledgeable product expert.
Flight safety should always be a priority, and it also helps to protect the investment. It’s important to consider personal safety, the safety of others that might be in the vicinity and the safety of the equipment.
Respect to regulations
Going hand-in-hand with safety, regulations are a significant part of UAS operations. Anyone who has paid attention to drones in the media has heard about the regulations that come with ownership. Because drones are classified as an aircraft, federal regulations set the requirements all operators must follow.
To be brought up to speed, take a look at the resources available from the FAA and RDOIC.
The final consideration regarding UAS ownership is one often overlooked: personnel. This doesn’t necessarily mean adding more people to a team but could mean developing the right person or people to make it successful.
In order to achieve the maximum benefit of the technology, it’s essential that someone have the resources needed to learn to operate and manage the technology for a business.
All decision-makers should ask themselves the following questions prior to a drone purchase.
First: “Do I have the capability to manage this process myself?
If that answer is no: “Can one of my existing employees take ownership of this?
If you’re still unsure, the question may be: “Do I need to hire an expert or someone who can be trained to be an expert?”
From research to reward
No longer reserved for an elite group of professionals, UAS ownership can be a practical and smart move for all growers. While it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and surging popularity of these units, a tactical and thorough evaluation is still a must when deciding if drone ownership is the right decision for your business.