Texas A&M-Corpus Christi to conduct ag-specific UAV research

By Emily Aasand | February 19, 2015

Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and Texas A&M AgriLife Research have received the state’s first permit to use unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs) to conduct agriculture research that will help growers improve crop quality and yields while reducing production costs. The research is planned to be conducted at the Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension Center in Corpus Christi.

“This represents another excellent opportunity for us to continue conducting cutting-edge agricultural research,” said Juan Landivar, AgriLife Research’s Corpus Christi Center director. “After submitting an application and undergoing an extensive review process by the Federal Aviation Administration, we were issued a permit to conduct research in flight operations for precision agriculture. This technology will eventually improve agriculture and could bring an entirely new drone-based, multi-million dollar industry to Texas.”

The entities plan to use seneFly’s eBee platform to conduct research. SenseFly’s eBee Ag UAV is able to photograph up to 2,470 acres in a single flight, then use those images to create high-resolution maps that show which crops need treatment or closer examination. The eBee Ag has a wingspan of 38 inches, can fly for up to 45 minutes and automatic three-dimensional flight planning.

“This technology has huge potential,” according to Dr. Michael Starek, assistant professor of geographic information science and geospatial surveying engineering at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “Such systems can be equipped with specialized cameras to precisely map where crops are stressed, assess moisture conditions, image 3-D plant structure, detect pest infiltration, and potentially determine early on where crops are diseased. Compared to tradition aircraft or satellites, UAVs provide the capability to scout crops at a fraction of the cost and spatial and temporal scales previously unattainable.”

The permit that Texas A&M-Corpus Christi and AgriLife Research received is specific to its role as a state agency, and doesn’t pertain to commercial uses. The two are in the process of applying for another agricultural UAV permit to use a roto-copter that hovers and can focus in on a particular problem in a field, said Starek.

“I see small-scale UAVs becoming an integral tool for growers, big and small, enabling them to target their needs to better manage crops,” said Starek. “It’s relatively inexpensive, capable, and a technology that is rapidly evolving. Eventually, these platforms will perform all kinds of applications beyond crop scouting, such as precisely watering or distributing insecticide. The possibilities and potential are impressive.” 


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