AggieAir leading the way by using drones for ag research

<span class=”s1″>LOGAN – Researchers at Utah State University’s Water Research Lab are using drones in agricultural applications with great success and in much different settings than the news making drones in the military world. </span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>They call this program “AggieAir.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>Water Lab Director Mac McKee said the drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), are producing high resolution, aerial imagery used in evaluating crops.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“We have gotten into this specifically for purposes of advancing small scale aircraft remote sensing,” said McKee. “Many universities are exploring the application and development of UAVs just for UAV sake. </span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“We got into it strictly for the purposes of designing a package of sensors that have certain capabilities and certain maximum costs, that just happened to be able to fly.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>McKee said everything he and his team have done has been aimed at delivering scientific grade data for certain types of applications. He said they aren’t just UAV-focused or just sensor-focused.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“We have been application focused and that’s what has driven us for eight years and it is what really makes our work here unique.” </span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>McKee is quick to caution that this work is not just about the UAV.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“It’s the platform that’s in the air, it is the sensors it can carry and most importantly, after the flight is over, it is the analytic technology to interpret the data that are acquired — with the use of the UAV — and to translate it into something that is of value for the application intended.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>He said as it applies to irrigated agriculture, it is more than just pretty pictures.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“It’s actionable information that the farmer can use to determine, at very high geographic resolution, where to water and how much to irrigate, where to fertilize, when to anticipate harvest and so on.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>McKee said their aircraft have two onboard computers; they are about to add a third.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“One is the flight control computer. Before launch we give that computer instructions about what it is supposed to do, then launch the aircraft. That computer actually flies the aircraft from launch to landing.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>He said the onboard computer flies the aircraft far more precisely than a ground-based joy stick pilot can fly it, although there is a pilot on the ground who can flip a switch at any time and take over the flight of the aircraft.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>The UAVs are small, less than 14 pounds. </span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>McKee said the “AggieAir” team is out in front of the pack, from a research standpoint, compared to anyone else doing this sort of work with these kinds of small aircraft.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“That is because of our unique combination of platform sensors and analytic treatment of the data we can collect. But, the minute we stop research and development, we won’t be in front of the pack very long.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>The <a href=”http://aggieair.usu.edu/” target=”_blank”>“AggieAir”</a> team follows the rules of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) which, McKee describes as very rigid.</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>“We fly under what is called a COA, a ‘Certificate of Authorization’ from the FAA. We have to apply for these certificates for any new location and any new type of aircraft.”</span>

<p class=”p2″><span class=”s1″>He said years ago it took a year or more to get a COA. But the FAA is now familiar with the “AggieAir” team and aware of its safety record and recently have issued a new COA in about 60 days.</span>

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