Precision measurement on the fly is appealing, but the rules are astounding.
The Unmanned Aerial Vehicle has captured the attention of the world, but U.S. farmers should consider themselves lucky...for now. Walking through the "Hall of Ideas" building at Agritechnica, where organizers had grouped all the high-tech equipment, we came across the octocopter you see on this page.
A quick conversation with Christoph Schimmer, geo-konzept, an ag consulting firm showing off its skills and technology at the show, offered a glimpse into the challenges of using UAVs in Europe. The key is rules governing use of UAVs. In Europe, people are very concerned about their privacy and they see these vehicles as a way to invade that privacy.
"The rules are even different in various parts of the country," he explains.
For example, he notes that in Britain you essentially need a pilot's license to fly a UAV - and that includes special classes about rules specific to this tech before an operator can be certified. That's a far cry from U.S. rules that allow use of UAVs below 400 feet.
Yet with all the rules, there is plenty of interest in this technology, Schimmer says. "The increased precision of the information that is available is important," he notes.
European farmers want better insight into how their crops are doing in-season. They have equipment for treating diseases and pests and they want to know how their yields will fare based on information from this system. The UAV is just another piece of information as farmers seek out ways to be more precise.
While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is pulling together rules for UAV use in the United States, that under 400-foot operating height gives farmers freedom to put these tools to use in gathering information on their farms. In Europe, the task will be just a little tougher, but they'll make it happen.