PrecisionHawk, a data-first approach to drone technology
Q. What is PrecisionHawk’s business focused on?
PrecisionHawk develops an end to end solution for UAV operators including hardware for collection and cloud based software for processing, management and analysis. This ensures that a user has a hands-off and streamline process to receive actionable data as opposed to a set of pretty pictures. We truly believe that in developing the automated tools to provide sophisticated analysis will be the key for users who expect to see a true ROI across key industries such as agriculture, insurance, oil & gas, emergency response etc. Over the past year, I have seen other companies in the space catch on to this data-first idea, but we truly, from day one, have developed all of our products with the mentality that if you don’t have good data coming into the pipeline and the right tools to interpret it, all benefits are lost.
Q. Your technology adds tremendous value to many areas, lets talk agriculture. How does PrecisionHawk help farmers?
PrecisionHawk helps farmers achieve less input, fewer emissions, heighten productivity and increase ROI. This is achieved through an end-to-end data collection to analysis process that is near real time, solution-based, and cost-efficient. Agriculture, being one data-intensive industry, relies heavily on processes that can be seamlessly integrated into a farmer’s existing workflow. In order for these processes to work, they need to be easy, repeatable, on-demand and cost-effective. Plus, this all needs to happen in a world with increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, ever-rising farm input costs, and limited land to grow on. Historically, farmers have used aerial surveying methods such as satellites or manned aviation to collect their data, but have always run into issues such as high costs, untimeliness or poor ground resolution. Farmers currently live in a world where they receive data once a month at 0.5 to 1 meter per pixel, at almost unjustifiable prices. By using PrecisionHawk’s solution, they are able to collect data on their own, at a fraction of the cost, on-demand and at ground resolutions of sub 1 cm per pixel.
Ex. Imagine you’re a farmer with 500 acres of mature corn. A bad hail storm comes through the night before and your insurance adjuster is trying to figure out the proper claim check to issue you. If you’ve ever been in a mature cornfield you know it’s nearly impossible to quickly walk through 8 foot tall stalks to assess the damage. Once you go in you can’t see anything! Traditionally, farmers and insurance agents would negotiate based on the severity of the storm, characteristics of the field and past experience. Now farmers have the ability to stand with their insurance agents, throw up a plane, let it intelligently survey the area and report back the EXACT amount of damage for the claim. The farmer moves on with recovery efforts and the agent is able to quickly move on to help the other farms that were impacted.
Q. I grew up in Vermont in a family filled with farmers, many of who were (and are) not up on the latest technology. Is this a challenge for you in this area?
Initially, yes. But as the farming industry moves into the age of smart agriculture/precision agriculture, we believe traditional farmers are excited to adopt new technologies than can empower their processes. We’ve made it our mission to educate farmers about the impact and use cases of drones in ag. From experience, we’ve seen that once they understand how the technology can function synergistically within their current management practices, they become eager to learn more about it and ultimately, adopt it.
For family farms, we have seen an especially increased level of interest as this precision agriculture movement is encouraging younger family members to stay on the farm to utilize these new technological tools.
Q. Your site mentions that you prevent birds from eating crops, how do you accomplish this?
PrecisionHawk started out over five years ago in viticulture – which at that time meant dressing our UAV up like a hawk, chasing pest birds away from the vines while simultaneously collecting crop data.
Q. What types of drones are typically used in farming?
Most fixed wing, small UAVs can remain in the air from 45 minutes to an hour at altitudes that can capture imagery as low sub 1cm/pixel. This low and slow mentality is important for collecting the high-resolution crop data that farmers need (for applications such as plant counting.) As soon as bulbs begin to pop up at the start of a grow season, farmers have the ability to fly low and slow over their acreage and collect data quickly enough to replant a specific area if necessary. Our first platform, that we sell today, is a fixed wing because we believe it fits the agriculture market need of capturing consistent data across large areas. However, for hovering operations, such as silo monitoring, rotary UAVs can hover in a single location for some time and be used for thorough inspections. We will be rolling out a rotary platform for these use cases for the 2016 season.
In the first episode of AgLoop TV that we participated in this week we spoke more in depth to the types of sensors a farmer should choose and how to decide on a fixed wing vs. rotary platform:
Q. What industry is most quickly adopting this technology?
While studies have shown that agriculture will take the largest market share in commercial UAS, which we have seen to be true, we have seen huge uptake of commercial drone adoptions in other major industries including insurance, energy and ecology. In 2015, we expect a significant chunk of our business to be focused on insurance, a close second to agriculture.
Q. Do you have a video or two you could share of your technology in action?
Here are a couple clips:
Q. What analysis options are available today through your software platform?
Examples include, plant height, weed detection, plant counting, canopy cover, crop health indexes, volumetrics, certain types of disease detection. We are working with a number of academic and research partners to assemble the most widely used algorithms for automated analysis as we grow our platform.