agricultural drone
An agricultural drone over the fields

Introduction

An agricultural drone is an unmanned aerial vehicle that helps farmers to increase efficiency in various areas of the farming process. The usage of high-tech agricultural drones increases the crop production by monitoring the crop growth and optimizing agricultural operations with the use of cameras, sensors, actuators and micro-controller. The gathered information from the drones is transferred to a dashboard with the help of the Internet to enable farmers to make decisions.

By 2050, the human population will rise to an expected number of 9 billion. To meet their needs, agricultural product growth will be an estimated 69% increase from the year 2010 to 2050. The latest technologies are needed to enable monitoring, measuring and reacting to external as well as internal parameters related to crops. The main goal of this approach is to use limited resources efficiently, to maximize the yield and to challenge against severe weather conditions, animals, weed outgrowth, under-stocking and the need for more food requirements.

Food production VS Population growth graph
Food production VS Population growth

Modern agriculture requires constant monitoring over fields to ensure optimal functioning. For this, we need a suitable data collection system. The two alternatives that can meet the farmer’s demand for increased supply of crops and decreased costs are a network of IoT devices and drones.

Drone technology is a huge innovation that has far-reaching effects in various fields and society, transforming lives and businesses. With the market for agricultural drones reaching billions, agriculture is now the second largest industry in terms of drone usage.

How does it work?

A drone construction includes propulsion and navigation system, GPS, sensors, cameras, programmable controllers and equipment for automated flights. The UAV drones for agriculture is built in a way that enables them to capture more accurate information. These drones have different, mainly audio-visual, sensors that collect data while flying over the fields. The drone-based software processes the collected data and delivers it in an easy-to-read format. The flight of drones can be controlled using a remote controller by an operator located in the vicinity or by computers.

Components that make up a drone.
Components that make up a drone.

Advantages

Utilizing drones help in crop health imaging, ease of use, potential to improve yields and in saving time. Drones can cover 10 times more land than a ground-based observer can cover in the same amount of time. With the data gathered, it gives us insights into plant health, plant counting, canopy cover mapping, field prediction, plant height measurement, etc.

A big portion of agriculture and farming activities depends on the predictions of weather, rainfall, soil, etc., which fails most of the time. Due to this, farmers go through heavy losses. Therefore, researchers came up with the new technology for crop screening and efficient farming along with IoT. The aim is to digitize agricultural and farming activities so that the farmers can manage the needs of crops and make the predictions precisely.

Drones are deployed in large farms with varying climate. They are useful in situations where issues related to bacteria, fungus or pests are difficult to manage and where fast remedial measures can be taken. Drones with machine vision and specialized algorithms can be used to find yield-limiting problems. They help farmers to see the real health of the plants by assessing factors such as the amount of sunlight, water, etc.

Drones produce precise 3D maps for soil analysis to enable farmers to take action accurately. The soil gets prepared for planting and sprayed with water, fertilizers or herbicides. Drone spraying and spreading is the future in farming. Drones have replaced the manual work of spraying pesticides and herbicides, making it easier to manage the huge crop fields. After planting, the soil analysis provides data for irrigation and nitrogen-level management.

Farmers receiving information from drones.
Farmers can take actions easily based on the information received through the drones.

Drone sensing technology

Drones collect information based on the light reflected by the crops. Using a specific type of sensor can help farmers collect data that indicates where issues exist so that they can take appropriate actions. The two types of sensors that are most frequently installed on drones are thermal and hyper-spectral sensors.

Thermal sensors can read the radiated temperature of the plants which might help identify how plants are using water, as those with more water appear cooler in an image. Hyper-spectral sensors record many wavelengths of both visible and invisible light. They might be able to identify a specific type of plant by measuring the color of light reflected, which can be useful in picking out things like herbicide-resistant weeds.

Drone spraying pesticide over the fields.
Drone spraying pesticide over the fields.

Conclusion

Most of the benefits that the farmers gained stem from eliminating prediction and reducing uncertainty. The success of farming depends on the factors which cannot be controlled like weather, soil conditions, temperature, precipitation, etc. The real-time information collected by the drones impacts the ability to adjust, which in turn impacts the efficiency in the farming process.

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