With notable names like Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.) in attendance, researchers and viticulturists (grape growers) spoke about their work testing unmanned aerial vehicles (popularly known as drones), at Ferrum College last week. During the presentation, Samantha Smith-Herndon from the Institute for Advanced Learning and Research, demonstrated a drone known as “AgBot” that was equipped with a sophisticated camera sensor to monitor crop fields. She’s been monitoring these crop fields at Ferrum College for the past year, having been allowed to map and monitor poorly growing grape vines in a five-acre field owned by a Patrick County grape farmer named John Ayers. Smith-Herndon’s findings eventually revealed the slow growth among some of the field’s grape vines were caused by a virus, a discovery that was made from the drone’s sophisticated sensor, enabling the device to individually inspect each vine from the air.
“It’s a tool,” says Ayers. “With their sophisticated analysis, they can take it (the drone) to the field and really benefit the agricultural producer.”
It would typically take a farmer about five hours to walk the entire field and inspect each plant, whereas the drones can cover a lot more territory. The AgBot inspected the entire field in 17 minutes, and took just four hours to analyze the data collected. Research to refine this technology and develop cost-efficient analyses to help farmers determine if drones are a fit for their operation, requires funding (even from the federal level). The AgBot, for example, can accumulate operational costs between $30,000-90,000, which won’t make this particular craft a fit for every agricultural operation.
Other obstacles these technologies face are skepticism from farmers (namely longtime or lifelong ones), along with rules and regulations imposed by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA). Reasons like this are why demonstrating these crafts to lawmakers like Senator Warner are so important.
“It’s good for the federal level to know how the Virginia economy can grow and prosper,” says Institute for Advanced Learning and Research spokesman Josh Barker, who went on to note how (according to a study conducted in North Carolina State University) every dollar spent on agricultural research returned $14 in the field.
Senator Warner told the audience he’s a strong believer in this technology, and that he would get involved with unmanned systems if he had to start over. Warner is reportedly working with Governor Ralph Northam to bolster the state’s economic development around these kind of innovative industries, which include cybersecurity, commercial satellites, and drones. Senator Warner also mentioned how he wants to see technology centers like Virginia Tech begin developing drone applications, but also would like to see unmanned vehicles designed and manufactured in the commonwealth.
About 95 percent of drones are made in China today, with the commonwealth currently having a strong hold on the industry. Warner also pointed out how these companies (in partnership with technology conglomerates like Google), accomplished recent tasks like the first chipotle burrito delivery in the country last year, along with the first medical delivery by drone to the Remote Area Medical Clinic back in 2015.
Filed Under: Cybersecurity, M2M (machine to machine)