In the near future, farmers may have a new way to check on their crops with special types of drones.
The United States military has been using unmanned drone airplanes for years, but one company has found other uses for the robot aircrafts, uses that might bring billions of dollars to the state of Kansas.
“When people say the word ‘drone,’ most people think of military, hostel, weaponized,” said Michael Toscano, the CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. “All these systems are used in line of site and at daytime.”
The devices do resemble a drone and, for the most part, they operate like one, but now the unmanned planes are getting new jobs in agriculture.
“[They are] a more efficient and effective way to do precision agriculture,” Toscano said.
Tuesday morning engineers at Kansas State University showed off some of the new uses for GPS with programmed planes. The demonstration included things like crop dusting, surveying land and checking on live stock. Demonstrators explained that it’s basically a remote control plane with cameras and sensors.
“It’s an extension of the eyes and ears of a farmer,” Toscano said.
“We could in theory be able to cover large tracks of land in a short period of time and identify limitations in crop production,” said Gary Pierzynski, the head of agronomy at KSU.
But the big question with the flying cameras becomes privacy. Right now the Federal Aviation Administration is limiting where they can be flown for safety reasons and it’s an ongoing discussion.
“As unmanned aerial vehicles become more common, these are usurps that Congress and the president are going to have to deal with and the American people are going to have a lot to say about the role that this technology can play,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, a Republican from Kansas.
“There’s no privacy out here. Lettuce doesn’t mind if you’re watching it, neither do strawberries,” Toscano said.
If completely approved, all the green pastures could add up to a lot more money for the state. The unmanned planes are already being built in Kansas and sell anywhere from $5,000 to several hundred thousand dollars.
While some bugs need to be worked out, as the demand for them grows, so too will jobs to build them.
“In the first year alone, there will be over 770 new jobs that will be available,” Toscano said.
Currently farmers can buy the planes, but legally they can only fly them over their own land.
Privacy issues have slowed down the approval process with the FAA. There is no set date as to when the planes will be allowed to fly for businesses purposes.