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An Agronomy Drone With a Mind of Its Own

The article below discusses possibilities for drone use. Please contact the number listed at the bottom of the article for more information about GreenSight's Dreamer drone and the industry's easiest daily drone intelligence service. GreenSight can assist ANY organization integrating drone intelligence into their operations.

Drones have become common in industries that need to cover a lot of ground like film productions, fossil fuel extraction, archaeological digs, military surveillance, forestry, and agriculture. The field of agronomy has been particularly aided by drones when it comes to studying plant health and management. Drones can capture and analyze small details on individual plants from over a hundred meters high. Farmers are starting to line up for this new technology.

What kind of drone is best for agronomy—self-flying or autonomous? Self-flying drones are guided by a human and best if a trip is not routine. Autonomous flight is when the drone decides where and when to fly without needing direct human input.  

GreenSight's Dreamer UAV with the longest flight time in the industry

With autonomous drones, there may be some human guided settings, such as scheduling, but overall, the drone is using artificial intelligence. The advantage of autonomous flying is that assuming all federal safety regulations are being followed, you can set it and forget it. This post will cover how autonomous drones can be used to collect agronomic data for your business.

Agronomy and Autonomous Drones

Agronomy is the science and technology of producing and using plants for food, fuel, fiber, and land reclamation. Data drawn from autonomous drones helps farmers build better strategy for planting and provides a higher degree of all-around monitoring of how crops are progressing on a day-to-day basis.

Autonomous drones can assist with a number of things for agronomy businesses:  

  • Scout crops regularly and automatically.
  • Images can show changes in the crops over time so that the problems like pest and fungal infestations are caught early.
  • Let farmers see a near-infrared view as well as a visual spectrum view. This combination shows the farmer differences between healthy and unhealthy plants.
  • Capture and analyze small details on individual plants from over a hundred meters high.
  • Use Lidar remote sensing technology to measure the height of crops.
  • Measure soil moisture and mineral variation.
  • Point out irrigation problems.
  • Through heat sensors, detect the presence of water, water temperature, and people or animals.
  • Count plants by crop density.
  • Assess water quality.
  • Monitor infrastructure such as fences, buildings, roads and roofs.
  • Identify weeds and pests.
GreenSight's Dreamer is equippped with a multispectral high resolution payload: 3 cameras RGB, InfraRed, calibrated thermal

As the laws begin to change, new drone uses for agronomy will be discovered. For example, soon you’ll see drone deliveries by Amazon. Perhaps, someday nutrients for your crops can be flown by drone right to your door. Aerial taxi services are also around the corner. Maybe a pesticide inspector can be flown to your farm from the train station.

Certified autonomous drone service, GreenSight, assists both large and small operations with crop management. GreenSight will stay updated on constantly evolving FAA regulations for you and offer tech support and equipment maintenance as needed.

Vegetative health index can be used to asses turf and crop health and spot issues that are difficult to assess on the ground

Part of the overall solution is to improve and enhance productivity whether that means better playing conditions on a golf course or higher crop yield on a farm. Through daily site monitoring, labor practices can be modified or irrigation procedures can become more detailed. Being able to fly at 120m and zoom in down to 1m on the ground provides detail that is hard to match!

GreenSight can help your agronomic business stay on top of its game, whether it be specialized farming, broadacre agriculture, long-term surveillance, or other areas where we have expertise.

 

GreenSight's automated intelligence drones are flying every day over farms, golf courses and other properties all over the world. Contact us to get started using drone intelligence for your farm or golf course. (+1 (844) 484-7336 • info@greensightag.com)

Jason VanBuskirk @URITurf


Trend: Drones Give Courses An Eye In The Sky

Evaluating irrigation efficiencies from the sky can make a huge difference.

Written by Robert J. Vasilak in Golf Inc. Magazine (original seen here)

Most every weekday, just before noon, Kevin Hauschel carries his drone to its designated launch site, attaches its propellers and sends an all-systems-go text to a pilot more than 2,500 miles away. Promptly, the drone launches and begins its GPS-programmed, 20-minute flight across Meadow Club’s 18-hole golf course in Fairfax, Calif. It’s a routine that might, for some, get tedious. But Hauschel, golf course superintendent at the San Francisco-area club, watches in wonder. Every time his drone takes wing, he sees something most other superintendents cannot: the future.

On the rare occasions when drones are operating at U.S. golf properties, they’re usually making the flyovers we watch on YouTube. After storms, drones might be dispatched to search for downed trees, broken fences and other damage, or to identify holes that may not be playable. Superintendents sometimes use them to document the progress of a renovation project. The Secret Service has considered using them to provide “spy-in-the-sky” security for the president when he’s golfing.

What Hauschel is doing, however, is completely different. His drone is outfitted not only with a camera but also with sensors and other sophisticated equipment that can measure the amount of moisture in Meadow Club’s soil and diagnose the health of its grasses and plants. When the drone completes its mission, it flies back to its launch site and automatically uploads the data it has collected to GreenSight Agronomics, a Boston-based company that operates what it describes as a “next-generation agricultural intelligence platform.”

Within hours, GreenSight digests Meadow Club’s data and posts an analysis, which Hauschel can access via a computer or smartphone. The analysis is part of an undertaking that Hauschel calls “still mostly experimental” but capable of radically changing the way golf courses are maintained. It enables him to make informed decisions about where and when to water and fertilize, and it spots diseases before they become visible from the ground.

“I learn something new about our golf course every day,” Hauschel said. “It’s darned near bulletproof technology. It allows me to stay ahead of problems.”

It also helps Meadow Club save money. Hauschel began working with GreenSight in the spring of last year, and within months he was able to move a member of his irrigation team to a different job. While he thinks it will take two or three seasons to fully determine the cost savings, he knows the club is getting a return on its investment.

“We know we’ve saved on water,” he said. “Last year we had the hottest summer on record, and we had our best irrigation efficiency ever.”

Although drone technology has been used by farms and vineyards for years, it’s only slowly being adopted by golf courses. Thomas Bastis, one of the PGA Tour’s competition agronomists, estimates that fewer than 100 U.S. golf properties are deploying drones to monitor their turf conditions.

“This is emerging technology,” said Bastis, a former superintendent of California Golf Club in San Francisco. “People are just starting to find a comfort level with it.”

Bastis said he thinks most superintendents still view drones the way people once viewed the first airplanes, the first automobiles, and the first computers. They see them as curiosities that aren’t particularly relevant to their livelihoods. But that’s not how he and Hauschel and other early adopters view them. They’re tapping drones for all they’re worth, and they believe that the rest of America’s superintendents will eventually follow.

“If you aren’t flying,” Hauschel said, “you’re falling behind.”

The drone carries 3 cameras on the payload: high resolution, gsNDVI, and thermal


Partnerships pay off

While Meadow Club’s drone flights are controlled by GreenSight, Hauschel keeps his eyes on the drone whenever it’s in the air. He’s obliged to because the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibits commercial drones from flying without ground-level supervision by a licensed pilot.

When it comes to adding a drone to a course-maintenance program, FAA certification is just one hurdle to clear. The other major one is the expense. A drone like Meadow Club’s costs thousands of dollars, and the required insurance brings an additional cost.

Those obstacles may lead superintendents to partner with providers such as Drone Elevations, MapGage, NexDrone, Summit Drones and Texas Drone Co. Hauschel considered such options, but he chose GreenSight because it offered a complete turnkey package, including the drone, the cameras and sensors, the analytics platform, the cloud-based data storage, FAA compliance, and the insurance. GreenSight, which has 64 U.S. customers and 11 in Canada, typically leases its equipment and services for $825 a month.

But most of all, Hauschel said, he chose GreenSight because it offered daily flights, which are crucial to reducing Meadow Club’s annual $300,000 water bill. The data he receives is always up to date, so he can target areas in need instead of irrigating indiscriminately.

“In California, water is gold,” he said. “This technology has the potential to change how we think about irrigation.”

Water savings may be the most significant benefit that drone technology offers to golf courses. Last year, The Toro Co. Became a minority investor in GreenSight, and Bastis said engineers from all the major irrigation companies are testing ways to integrate their systems with imaging data collected by drones.It’s possible that in the future, Toro and GreenSight may integrate their technologies so seamlessly that Toro’s irrigation systems would operate autonomously. Superintendents would be free to tend to other matters.

Something similar might eventually happen in regard to the application of fungicides and pesticides. Today, grounds crews often spread chemicals across entire fairways. But if a drone can identify a problem area and communicate its exact location (perhaps to a self- driving, GPS-connected sprayer), the use of chemicals could be greatly reduced.

“We’re revolutionizing how maintenance can be done and turfgrass can be managed,” said Jason VanBuskirk, GreenSight’s vice president of sales and marketing. “Superintendents who understand the data that’s being delivered can do more than they ever imagined.”

Toro has been a leader in the golf industry for 100 years.

Overcoming obstacles

One of these days, Meadow Club’s drone might be able to tap the full range of its capabilities.

GreenSight’s drones can fly autonomously. They can be housed in canopies that double as charging stations, and they can be programmed to make flights automatically, weather permitting, at whatever time a superintendent wants them to. Instead of watching his drone make its appointed rounds, Hauschel could be doing something else.

But the FAA won’t let him, because it isn’t convinced that remote-controlled drones will work as advertised. GreenSight has petitioned for a waiver on the regulations that prohibit autonomous flights, and VanBuskirk hopes to get it sometime this year. The thing is, he’s already been waiting for months.

Even without the waiver, though, GreenSight expects to have 2,000 customers within the next five to 10 years.

“It’s a process,” said VanBuskirk, a former superintendent. “I’m happy that younger generations of superintendents are coming into the business because younger people accept the technology right away. They have an affinity for it.”

Given the golf industry’s resistance to change, it’s no surprise that more superintendents haven’t embraced drone technology. But in the 21st century, time waits for no one. Consider how quickly email supplanted snail mail, and how digital maps have made paper maps nearly obsolete. When digital tools enable people to do their jobs more effectively, they’re adopted quickly.

“The golf courses that are using this technology are in the innovator stage,” Hauschel said. “We’re just learning how to use it. We still have to prove that the technology works, and that’s the hardest part.”

The handwriting is on the wall, however. In an era when lowering the cost of course maintenance could spell the difference between black ink and red ink on a balance sheet, operators are looking to drone technology. And a generation from now, superintendents may be wondering how they ever got along without it.

Meadow Club NDVI on May 31, 2019