Drones – every farmer will want one

As the technology improves, drones are sure to become commonplace on farms, says Greg Miles.

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As the name implies, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), also called drones, are remotely controlled aircraft. They have, of course, been used for years by armies around the world for high-altitude surveillance and as weapons platforms, firing missiles. But drones are no longer confined to the battlefield or used solely for spying on people. These days, you can buy them online.

Needless to say, they are not as advanced as their military cousins, but they are still highly capable devices. An UAV can be controlled by an iPad, iPhone or any other mobile device with wireless capabilities. The only limiting factor is the range of the wireless signal. One of the first drones to be made available to ‘civilians’ was the Parrot. It is still popular and retails for about R3 200. (Visit www.pricecheck.co.za to find the best prices.)

Many Uses
Drones are highly efficient and relatively inexpensive to fly. Due to their small size, they can also be rapidly deployed. A drone can be used for security purposes, to scan an area and give live video feedback to the operator. An SA-made Seeker UAV, for example, is used in the Kruger National Park in the fight against rhino poachers.

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It’s easy to see how valuable a drone can be to farmers. UAVs can be used to monitor watering troughs, valuable livestock and even scan crops. As demand increases, prices are almost certain to drop. Inevitably, UAVs designed specifically for farming will be developed in time, while ever-improving technology is likely to lengthen the distance a drone can cover.

Drones In action
Dan Braman, a farmer in the USA, recently posted a video on YouTube of dogs trapping a bobcat in a tree – the footage was taken by a drone. (Visit Drones.)  According to Braman, the drone, a DJI quad-copter, has a range of about 300km and can reach an altitude of 50m or so.

“The battery lasts about 25 minutes and you can watch what the camera sees in ‘real time’ on your iPhone,” he explains. “Another cool feature is that if you fly the drone out of range it homes back to where it took off and lands itself.”

Click on the link to see how another US-based farmer uses his UAV.