As the Pentagon indicates that it will level off unmanned drone purchases through 2017, manufacturers of the robots are looking for the next big market, and they’ve found it in farmers, Wired reports.
According to Chris Mailey, a vice president with the drone promotion organization known as AUVSI, farming looks like the drone market with fewer impediments and bigger incentives for early technological adoption:
“A manned crop sprayer is flying 10 feet above his crops – how accurate is it? Any crop you spray that isn’t on your farm you have to pay for, and a remote-controlled ‘copter can be very precise,” says Mailey in the Wired article. “Spraying, watering – there’s a whole market for precision agriculture, and when you put that cost-benefit together, farmers will buy [drones].”
Farmers have already started using home-made drones or lightweight, modular GPS-driven gliders to get data on soil patterns and other features, Wired reports.
Japan is also an indication of the potential demand for farming drones – in 1990, Yamaha introduced an unmanned helicopter for crop spraying. By 2010, the drone and its robotic competitors – some 2,300 of them – sprayed about 30 percent of Japanese rice fields with pesticides, according to data from Yamaha. The Japanese farm hectares sprayed by manned helicopters dropped from 1,328 in 1995 to 57 in 2011, as unmanned helicopter spray rose to 1,000 hectares in 2011, Wired says.