Unmanned drones for crop spraying tested at UC Davis

June 11, 2013 12:13:55 AM PDT
Researchers at U.C. Davis say the drones, which are not for military use, could actually have the weapons to help farmers grow better crops.

Flying just several feet above crops in Yolo County is the Yamaha R-Max remote controlled helicopter, an unmanned drone.

Instead of targeting suspected Al Qaeda insurgents or enemy bunkers, these drones target pesky crop-eating bugs.

"Very specific, very targeted, very precise," said Ken Giles, U.C. Davis Professor of Ag Engineering, "It's surprising easy to operate."

Giles said this chopper, weighing 200 pounds and about half the size of a golf cart, is used specifically for crops and will never fly over neighborhoods. They have to notify the FAA before even taking off. His team is looking for ways to help farmers spray and save.

Gile said the traditional ground or aircraft crop sprayers use more chemicals than necessary. "With an aircraft we can treat 3 or 4 acres with much less volume. Maybe a hundredth volume that this would take."

Most ground sprayers can't negotiate tough terrain such as sloping ground.

The wine industry may be interested. "Grapes in Sonoma Napa areas where you have hillside applications. Very steep hillside, times when we don't have access by ground," said Gile.

This drone could offer two invaluable benefits: safety and efficiency.

"We think ultimately it removes an operator from being exposed to the chemical. And it also allows that chemical to be placed exactly where we want it and just the area that we need it without having to treat the whole field," said Gile.


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