Some UAVs are flown manually using a remote controller that directs the vehicle through the air and over a field.

“It’s remarkable how farmers pick up on it so fast. They’re surprisingly really good at this,” says Drew Janes, president of Aerial Precision Ag. The company debuted its UAVs to the farming community at this year’s AgConnect show in January, where they sold 18 of their Multirotor UAV systems. APA’s ready to fly kits are marketed as affordable, easy-to-use systems that come with everything a farmer needs to start taking aerial imagery and videos of their fields quickly. The images and video are then easily transferred to a computer, where farmers can start identifying problem spots in fields and speeding up the scouting process during the growing season. But APA has also hinted it’s working on more advanced, autonomous systems to be launched this fall.

One autonomous system already on the market is the Lancaster Hawkeye Mark III from PrecisionHawk, which the company playfully calls “The Bird.” The user programs in the field coordinates and the type of data they want The Bird to collect ahead of time and then throws the vehicle into the air. On-board sensors make adjustments for factors such as wind conditions and allow the plane to intelligently compute the best way to fly and collect data. After the data is collected, the system automatically returns to the starting point and lands on its own.

“You don’t need to be a highly trained user to do this. We put a lot of technology into a very small package,” says Earon, PrecisionHawk CEO.

Earon says the company has focused on taking all of the diagnostics away from the user so farmers can instead focus on deciding what they want to survey and know about their fields to make decisions on their farm management. “In agriculture, [farmers] are not interested in having to dedicate somebody to be a UAV operator,” Earon says. “They need something that works just like a tool. It has to be easy to use so anyone can use it. They want it to be hands-off as much as they can, and that includes the data side.”

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