10 Tips From UAV Users
Before you buy a UAV, think about what you want it for. Drones are great for an immediate elevated look at anything you can see with your eyes, like hail damage, nitrogen patterns, and water erosion. But if you want whole field maps, commercial flights that deliver geo-referenced images are more cost-effective.
Ryan Bergman and Zach Vanderleest have piloted a quadcopter and a fixed wing UAV for the past two years. Among other things, they’ve learned a quadcopter can offer an immediate, high view of a crop you can’t see well from the ground. “If you want a better idea of crop damage from hail or high winds that you can’t see from the ground, and you want to see it the day it happens, a quadcopter can do that for you,” Bergman says. “But while a quadcopter gives you that added perspective, many models can’t produce a geo-referenced map. You get pictures, not stitched and geo-referenced maps.”
So while these two Iowa State University agricultural biosystems engineers get photos of ISU research plots with the drones, they also order commercial imagery from low-flying Cessna’s for maps. “We can get aerial imagery that’s stitched together for $2 an acre. That’s a price point that adds value to management decisions,” Vanderleest says.
Learning from experience
Bergman and Vanderleest say they’ve learned first-hand that:
- Legal issues about flying a UAV are not always clear or easy to understand. Fly legally and safely 100% of the time—improper use of a UAV can lead to fines and lawsuits that could bring negative publicity to the ag community. You may want to consult a lawyer and your insurance agent before purchasing one for your farm. Know Before You Fly (http://knowbeforeyoufly.org/) is a great resource on the legal aspects of owning a UAV.
- Having a second person on-hand while flying is both required by the current regulations and a good idea to help keep track of the UAV and assist with other things while flying. A UAV two hundred feet in the air is easy to lose track of when you are trying to watch the ground station and the UAV simultaneously.
- There is a learning curve. You won’t likely pull a UAV out of the box and be making management decisions from it the same day. The first time you fly it, make sure you are in a wide open area.
- You’ll need to experiment with your UAV. Try different settings such as flight altitude, camera types & settings, flight path over the field, and time of day just to name a few.
- Continue reading about tips from UAV users.