All eyes were on Jim Love at Becknology Days recently when he carried a fixed-wing unmanned aerial vehicle, known as a drone in some common terms, outside the tent and prepared to launch it. Love has worked with UAVs of various descriptions for a long time. He's with Beck's Hybrids, Atlanta, Ind.
Love launched the aircraft. I had a set mission to fly that he had devised on his computer screen. The plane wasn't taking pictures for this demonstration, but it is equipped with a camera so that it can.
"We're finding more usefulness with fixed wing aircraft as UAVs vs. the helicopter approach right now," he says. "They tend to fly longer and you can cover more acres."
He says they can typically get about 300 acres covered in about 40 minutes with a fixed-wing UAV. So far they typically get about 80 acres covered with a helicopter-type craft.
The difference is how long the batteries last that power the craft, he notes. While some companies selling UAVs of the copter design claim 20 minute battery life, that includes time to get to the field and back. "We've found the actual time you can use some of them to be about 10 minutes," Love notes.
The fixed wing craft tend to be more costly, but it all depends on what you're buying in either type, he says. So you want it just for scouting, or do you want to make "stitched" images for analysis? The stitched images require software that can put the photos shot in the air on coordinates together to make one big field image. The software tends to be expensive.
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Right now you can spend anywhere from $300 to $50,000 and have a UAV that will carry a camera. For $300 you may only get 600 feet of range, but the product is on the market and was displayed at the Farm Progress Show. For $50,000 you get a state-of-the-art fixed wing craft from Trimble, the only product they currently offer in the UAV market.
Most are somewhere in between. Love says they're trying out different models in different situations to learn what they might be able to do with this new technology. Beck's Hybrids also offers customers the option of images of their field taken through conventional channels.
Bill Frietag, also with Beck's Hybrids, says that the first question to answer today is this. What do you want to do with a UAV? If you just want to scout crops for yield information, that will lead you in a different direction that if you want to put together images.