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Agriculture technology boasts robots, drones

Posted: 25 Aug 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:agro-science  farm  agriculture  robot  drone 

Drones in demand

Wisconsin-based drone company, DMZ Marketing, is a classic story of entrepreneurship. Cousins Mitch and Zac Fiene worked, while they were still in school, as crop scouts. After many hours covering large fields on foot to check crops and soils, they told themselves there has to be a better way.

How about using a remote-controlled helicopter?

That brainstorm happened in 2010, when hobbyist drones were still scarce. The Fienes literally hand-made their first drone in a college dorm-room.

Drone

DMZ today uses off-the-shelf drones like those of DJI but adds its own accessories, including a near-infrared camera and unique software for 360-degree image stitching. Because commercial drones are still tightly regulated by the Federal Aviation Administration, DMZ's clients—many premiere co-ops and UAV service providers—find themselves with no choice but to fly drones without FAA permission. "But 90 per cent of our clients are in the process of applying for FAA's section 333 exemption," said Mitch. DMZ also helps clients write the applications.

DJI drone

Zac Fiene with a DJI drone

Requiring a pilot licence for flying "something a five-year-old can do" is a little irritating, said Zac.

Through satellite images, farmers already have lots of information about what's going on in their fields. But with drones flying closer to the ground, the data is more precise. More important, they can check more frequently, by flying a drone on demand.

'Roomba' for farmers

Rowbots, a Minneapolis start-up company, has developed a robot small enough to fit between maize rows and nimble enough to drive itself as it applies fertilizer or distributes seeds.

The Rowbot, navigated via GPS, is said to come with sensors similar to those in Google Cars. It has four-wheel drive for rough terrain.

Rowbot

A robot small enough to fit between maize rows. (Source: Rowbot)

A late-season application by a Rowbot allows growers to use less fertilizer in the spring. In addition, Rowbots can plant cover crops between maize rows. As noted by Heidi Johnson, crops and soil agent in Dane County, Wisconsin, many farmers now keep soil covered with vegetation through the winter. But if farmers wait until after the harvest to plant those cover crops, window of time can be very brief.

Rowbots can plant cover crops earlier, without disturbing the maize.

Monitoring moisture levels

Field Connect

John Deere Field Connect is on display at Innovation Square at FarmTech Days. The system monitors moisture levels and feeds data to a web-based interface, allowing growers to make timely irrigation decisions.

Big chopper

Big chopper

A chopper is a big machine that inspires a little awe. A modern chopper now comes with intelligent sensors to monitor the weight of maize or hay, figure out yield and map fields according to their comparative yield.


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