AI News, Agriculture Drones Are Finally Cleared for Takeoff

Agriculture Drones Are Finally Cleared for Takeoff

Tech-savvy farmers have been some of the earliest commercial adopters of drone technology, purchasing 45,000 drones last year alone.

But if they were using the drones to check on the condition of their fields, spraying their crops, or keeping tabs on livestock, most of them were technically breaking the law.

The new rules allow commercial drone operators to get certified via a written test, so long as they fly drones that meet certain weight and altitude guidelines.

By using drones to scout for weeds and pests, spot diseased plants or dry areas, and spray the right amount of fertilizer and pesticide, farmers can increase yield with less resources and environmental harm.

Miller, who has been flying robotic aircraft over his family’s soybean farms as a hobbyist for years, says interest in the technology among farmers he knows is soaring.

Until now, many drone technology providers sat on the sidelines, not wanting to go ahead with drone testing or use given the lack of a clear regulatory path, says Nathan Stein, agricultural solutions manager at Swiss drone maker ­senseFly.

Current rules limit commercial drones to less than 55 pounds (25 kilograms), a maximum speed of 100 miles per hour (160 kilometers per hour), and an altitude of 400 feet (122meters).

“To really get economic benefits from drones, we need beyond-line-of-sight operations, flights over people, and access to higher altitudes.” Perhaps then, like tractors and combines, drones might become standard farm equipment.

Farmers disappointed by restrictions in proposed drone rules

CHICAGO (Reuters) - U.S. farmers hoping to use drones to locate lost livestock or monitor trouble spots in their fields were disappointed by what they say are overly restrictive commercial drone rules proposed Sunday by the Federal Aviation Administration.  Two of the long-awaited draft rules were singled out for particular criticism: a requirement that pilots remain in visual contact with their drones at all times and a height restriction that limits the crafts to flying no more than 500 feet above ground.  These constraints, farmers and drone operators say, would limit a drone’s range – and consequently its usefulness.

Leading drone makers PrecisionHawk and Trimble Navigation Limited, farm data services firms, including ones run by Monsanto and FarmLogs, and even some federal lawmakers are saying the proposed rules could delay the development of drone-assisted agriculture in the United States if they are finalized as currently written.

Idaho farmer Robert Blair, who in January received the FAA’s first exemption for drone use on a commercial farm, said the new rules would require him to fly 10 separate drone missions to cover his 1,300 acres, since he would have to continuously shift locations in order to keep his drone within sight.

Many agricultural drones initially will be used to identify trouble spots in fields or snap high-definition images of crops for plant health analysis, jobs suited for the small drones (weighing no more than 55 pounds) allowed under the proposed rules.

Despite a current ban on most commercial drone uses, classes teaching farmers how to use the unmanned aircrafts have flourished at rural colleges, and a bevy of YouTube videos stands as evidence that some farmers already have begun piloting them.

New FAA rules for drones could be a ‘game-changer’ for agriculture

New federal rules for the operation of small drones will lead to more innovation in the agricultural industry and open up their use to the average farmer, industry experts say.

People who wanted to fly drones previously had to obtain an exemption from Section 333 of the FAA Modernization and Reform Act of 2012, the rules for certifying the airworthiness of aircraft.

In an explanation of the new rules sent to Capital Press, PrecisionHawk Executive Vice President Thomas Haun said, “the new rules allow for a much broader access to drone technology that can be used by a wider audience of people.”

With the new rules, “as long as you meet a few pretty minimal requirements and operate safely, you can legally operate drones in agriculture and other commercial opportunities,”

“What I think you’re going to see is a movement from a few very select companies operating drones previously to a broad community of farmers having access to the technology.”

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D'Couto said his company has entered into a partnership with a drone company to develop fuel cell power for drones that could extend their flying time from the usual two hours to up to eight.

In January, FAA Administrator Michel Huerta told a Senate panel looking into drone rules and regulations that, 'Even today, we don't have a full and complete understanding of where this is going in the future, and that's one of the things that creates the greatest opportunity and the greatest challenges.'

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