It is not surprising that after scanning the plants with a drone and creating a map of the specific application the operators will also use. But while drones have simpler and more accessible technology, are there any better alternatives? We look at what can fly and what might work in the future.
At first glance it is hard to imagine what could be challenging the seemingly unstoppable rise of the drone. What are some alternatives? The dominance of drones is causing their agricultural deployments, said Fred Miller, founder of the HaybeeSee Crophopper Robot Jump.
He explains that much of the progress has been made by the flexibility that has been done to adapt the existing ones to suit the needs of farming, rather than something specifically designed for the work. His answer is a jumping robot, designed to operate in a truly independent way. It travels across fields, identifying weeds and diseases as well as mechanical weeding or spraying.
The design makes it effective by using a carbon-fiber sloping leg that goes into the air. About halfway into the entrance to the four towers which include increasing the distance of travel and facilitating arrival. Unlike a drone, which requires a battery replacement every 20-30 minutes, it can add up to 70 ha / day to three battery variants. It does not require a pilot and, most importantly in EU operations, can install spotting sprays – because it is durable so this is not a ‘air’ application.
Is it a bird ..?
A drone that mimics the flight of birds, is the way Patrick Maletz, founder of Falco Drone Technology, described Hover Bird. “Ordinary drones and helicopters use 95-98% of their power to stay in the air and overcome gravity, which means that drone batteries often do not stay in the air for longer than 20 min. And they can’t fly very well, ”he added.
“We have worked out that by using the air as a bird, instead of fighting it, we can extend the flight time by up to three hours.” While, so far, there are no photos and very little information, Patrick says this new design can easily navigate and be ready to scan plants and look down for a closer look.
The future of the adjusted wing
Although the fixed UAV wings show a preference for scanning and testing of plants, they still have to start with the spraying systems installed. However, there are a number of exciting developments, although knowledge about this is scarce.
Pyka, an independent aerospace manufacturer based in California, USA, advertises ‘the world’s most productive spraying machine. It resembles a mini-crop duster aircraft and its latest ‘Pelican’ model has been awarded a Federal Aviation Administration certificate for air travel. With its carrying capacity of 283 kg, it is clearly intended to cultivate a wide hectare, providing a safer alternative to male aircraft, with the benefit of independent operation. It can cover up to 55 ha / hr with a spray rate of 7.6 l / ha.
With a wingspan of 11.6 m it measures 6 m long and is driven by three rotors – one on each wing and tail – at speeds of up to 145 km / hr. The power provided by the unwanted lithium polymer battery packs, is said to provide 1,000 operating cycles.
At the lowest level is the U7AG, made in Canada by Forward Robotics. Designed using carbon-fiber panels and 3D printed elements, it is made indoors, including software. It has 2.5 m wings and has four rotors that give it the ability to move and stand upright (VOTL). It is designed to cover about 40 ha / hr by 44 liters / ha. The key to a high level of production, says the manufacturer, is its spray speed and independent operation, which includes departure, seating and automatic filling.Most drones use four, six or eight electric rotors. But the imminent launch of the XAG Polar V40 2021, cuts this into only two, saying it improves aircraft performance. – Photo: XAG
When talking about drones the word hybrid is used in two ways. The first can define a combination of wings and rotors to provide VOTL services or short-term releases, such as those in U7AG. It can also mean a combination of electricity and fuel. One example is Hybrix 2.1 developed by Spanish manufacturer Quaternium, which received funding for the EU Horizon 2020 research and development program.
This four-rotor drone is in the 25 kg category, with a load of 10 kg, but offers up to two hours of flight time with a high payload. The spray type uses eight tubes, mounted in pairs on the boom. The advantage of a dual-engine engine is that there is no need to charge the batteries, but it obviously needs to stay grounded to refill the spray fluid and fuel.
Twin Rotor UAV
Most agricultural drones have four, six or eight rotors. But that could change soon when XAG unveiled its first bi-coptor, called the Polar V40 2021, which was first seen in December 2020. Why just two rotors? XAG explains that this improves flight efficiency and, due to its small size, will be able to penetrate solid spaces – between plant lines, for example.
Designed and built in Canada by Forward Robotic U7AG has 2.5 m wings and four power rotors and VTOL. Designed for large area systems with independent operation. – Photo: Forward Robots
Big green drones?
John Deere drew a lot of attention at the 2019 Agritechnica show, in Hannover, with a 9.2m VoloCopter and a ‘nest’ of completely independent drones. So far there are no further details. The idea is that the drone is placed inside its ‘hanger’ outside the field and the functions are controlled remotely by the operator. The lid on the hanger opens and the drone slides over the navigation pad, scans the field and returns to the hanger. The operator then creates an application map and selects the product, which is downloaded and automatically filled inside the nest. Batteries are also replaced automatically.
Great drone integration
With US $ 10.5 million sponsored and supported by some of the world’s largest agricultural enterprises, Guardian Agriculture aims to ‘revitalize crop protection through eVTOL-enabled technology.’ Key partners include Bayer, Wilbur-Ellis, FMC and Fall Line Capital. The new, eVOL, ‘paid for hundreds of pounds’ drone will deal with applications.
There are currently little details about this drone. Photos on this website show that it is much larger than any current spray drones and is mounted, wrapped in a hand-crafted trailer with a nursing tank on the pick-up truck.
Guardian already has $ 20 million service booking orders from farmers and farm workers across the USA and this is rapidly increasing.