Data capture is near real-time and on demand with agricultural drones.
There is not a remote sensing platform that is innately better at all things: satellites, manned aircraft, and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) all fill a unique niche where they excel.
Satellite data acquisition is nearly passive and allows for comparison of long-term trends. Manned aircraft are very cost-effective for larger acreages. UAVs (let’s just call them drones, shall we?) have as their key advantages:
- data capture is near real-time and on demand
- imagery can be extremely high resolution
- newest-generation sensors can be deployed almost immediately.
- It is these benefits that will enable drones in coming years to go from mid-altitude crop health mapping tools to being low-altitude diagnostic powerhouses.
Topography, soil, water and management history are crucial datasets for crop decision-making. Imagery often plays only a minor supporting role in those decisions. But in those instances when imagery is crucial for crop management, it needs to provide information that can be acted on quickly. While satellite imagery has been improving, with companies putting dozens of satellites into space to increase imaging frequency, they still cannot provide actionable data within a day.
Often, satellite frequency is enough for early-season fertilizer decisions, for example. But in regions with cloud or smoke cover during the summer, even that frequency will sometimes be insufficient for simple applications like variable-rate fungicide. Drones, on the other hand, can acquire data almost on demand, if and when it is required for farm management decisions. Most systems are already able to produce a map within hours of UAV flight — in some cases such as the Slantrange system reducing that further to a matter of minutes. This ability to not only capture data on demand, but also turn it into action almost immediately gives drones a unique niche in mid-season precision agriculture.