Drone technology is amazing. It’s improving all the time and becoming more accessible and more affordable. Right now operations have started using drones to scout and spray fields. Price tags are starting to drop, but the technology is still a significant investment for most operations. Read on as we describe and contrast three new drone models- the Quantix, the FAZER, and the DJI Agras MG-1.
The Quantix drone comes from a family of drones developed by AeroVironment, of Monrovia, California. The company developed some of the first drone models thirty years ago and currently supplies drone systems to the US Department of Defense. Now, the company has transferred some of their surveillance and strike weaponry into drone technology for commercial agriculture. The technology is designed to help farmers,”Assess the effectiveness of their growing processes, improve their scouting efficiency, and learn from changes in historical data to make improvements year-over-year.”
The Quantix is a drone that scouts and scans fields. It has a 3.2 foot wingspan and can fly up to 40mph. It’s lithium powered battery gives the drone a flight time of 45 minutes. It can cover about 10 acres a minute and records images. Takeoff and landing are fully automated.
The flight path overlaps slightly on each pass, which helps improve image accuracy. It takes thousands of photos during a scan and combines them together into a single high resolution image of your field. The drone’s software provides instant feedback upon landing, and more in-depth analysis is generated in about an hour.
It has an analytics package that can help farmers focus in on areas of interest. Is nitrogen leaching? Are plants getting enough water? Farmers can detect disease, pest and weed problems through the drone’s thorough scans. It can also compare scans over time. Stuart Sanderson is a farmer that uses the Quantix.
“We get a better view of the field [with a drone] than driving 60 miles per hour down the road. In essence, we can increase bushels, but also prevent yield loss.”
To purchase the Quantix and accompanying software, the price tag is $16,500. The software contract is renewed each year at a cost of $3K.
Let’s move onto the sprayers.
A remotely piloted helicopter made by Yamaha called FAZER has recently been granted an exemption by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and will now be allowed to operate on specific commercial farming applications. AgDaily reports that the helicopter will be used to apply aerial applications of fungicide on wine grapes in Napa Valley. This exemption likely opens the window of possibilities for remote aerial spraying by helicopter in other parts of the country to become a future reality.
The FAZER is actually the second model to receive FAA approval. The RMAX is currently being operated in Napa Valley, and the technology is frequently used in Japan. Caleb Mosley, Senior Viticulturalist for Michael Wolf Vineyard Services utilizes the technology and has been pleased.
“The increased payload and output offered by the FAZER coupled with the expertise of Yamaha’s pilots and support staff, shows a commitment to the viticultural plant protection field that we are pleased to be able to utilize in our vineyards.”
FAZER has multiple improvements over the RMAX version- most important- bigger payloads. FAZER has an increased capacity by 50%. It can spray 4 hectares before needing to reload with chemicals or fuel. There is an improved control system with a better transmitter. It also operates more quietly and has cleaner emissions.
Yamaha has been operating remotely piloted helicopters since 1991, and the company has accrued over 2 million flight hours in commercial applications. In Japan, there are over 2,500 remotely piloted Yamaha helicopters used for agriculture.
Brad Anderson, Yamaha’s Unmanned Systems Division Manager says:
“This new FAA approval for the FAZER operation follows more than 20 years of experience and proven agricultural performance, and it’s a testament to Yamaha’s commitment to remotely piloted helicopters and precision agriculture.”
“The FAZER is our next step in the evolution of this unique line of remotely piloted helicopters, and its improved performance features will help us be more efficient and reach more farms that need this type of technology.”
Currently, FAA regulations stipulate that in order to operate RMAX and FAZER helicopters you must be a certified and licensed Yamaha employee. Yamaha is hoping to release another model that will allowed to be leased by other licensed operators. It probably won’t be too long before this technology is available for more agricultural applications. Hope you’re ready.
What additional drone technology is available for spraying fields? How does the FAZER compare to another spraying drone available now- the DJI Agras MG-1?
The two drones are fairly different- mostly in appearance. The FAZER looks like a miniature helicopter. The Agras MG-1 looks like your more traditional drone, has a smaller payload than both the FAZER and RMAX, and a smaller price tag. You can also operate the Agras MG-1 on your own, without two trained professionals like the Yamaha drones.
DJI Agras MG-1
The Agras MG-1 is a smaller and lighter vehicle and can carry 22 pounds of pesticide, fertilizer or herbicide. It’s made from high-strength carbon fiber, and the frame is light and durable. It’s powered by batteries, as opposed to gas on the Yamaha models. The Agras MG-1 has a short 10 minute flight time, so you’d be stopping to refuel and reload more frequently.
The Agras MG-1 has a “Smart Mode” that makes spraying efficient. It can cover 7-10 acres in one hour, which is 40-60 times faster than manual spraying applications. The drone can operate without mapping knowledge or additional software. It’s also small enough to fit in the trunk of a car.
It has several unique modifications to help prevent dust corrosion and to reduce overall maintenance.
To counteract degradation, the MG-1 is designed with a sealed body and an efficient, integrated centrifugal cooling system. As it flies, the surrounding air enters the aircraft body via the front inlet, equipped with a triple filter system that keeps dust and particulate matter from entering. The air then passes through each of the aircraft’s arms to the motors, capturing heat from all components and the entire structure before exiting and dissipating the heat to the surrounding air. The combination of cooling and filtering increases the expected lifespan of each motor by up to three times.
The cost of one will run you $15K.
Drone technology is improving all the time and is likely to become a huge part of agriculture. Right now a lot of it is still out of reach and impractical for most operations, but drones like the Quantix and Agras MG-1 have significantly lower price tags than the Yamaha drone models. It could be an exciting new investment worth considering.