Precision ag drone system creator earns commercial investment

By Luke Geiver | December 08, 2016

Raptor Maps has grown its drone-based system designed for specialty crop precision agriculture applications into a business worthy of investment. The Commercial Drone Fund, a venture-backed capital fund launched by Airware, has invested an undisclosed amount in the Cambridge, Massachusetts-based company. 

Raptor maps has created a system and software package that can analyze data and provide potential actions to farmers. “Until now, drone technology has been more of a curiosity in agriculture,” said Nikhil Vadhavkar, CEO of Raptor. “Farmers would receive maps with generic metrics like ‘crop stress,’ but the actionability and ability to calculate a return-on-investment was limited,” adding that “we are now able to ground truth the drone data and perform statistical analyses to show a farmer the value they are receiving from their practices in absolute, rather than relative terms.” 

Using sensors mounted onto planting or harvesting equipment in combination with a fixed-wing drone, the Raptor Maps team will fly before, during and after the seeding, growing and harvest periods. The goal is to identify variables that impact crop health, soil quality and overall yield. In addition to acquiring that data, Raptor Maps can help growers understand what they may or may not stand to gain by performing certain actions after reviewing their drone-captured data.

In Washington, a potato grower has already said he would use data collected from this year to better next year’s crop. “Raptor Maps gave me a breakdown of potato sizes on my 130-acre field. The size of analysis showed I could reduce an input and save money while maintaining yield,” said Steve Phipps of Piper Ranch in Moses Lake, Washington.

In working with Phipps, the team quantified how pre-plant under-fertilization affected potato size to help him find the floor, or minimum fertilizer application rate for his field, according to the company. “Without rigorous data science, it is better for growers to err on the right side of the curve, and over fertilize,” Raptor Maps said regarding the work. “But that isn’t the case anymore. Next season, Raptor Maps is designing a trial with this grower to measure just where this optimum value lies.”

John Kolaczynski, head of corporate development for the Commercial Drone Fund, said that while there are several companies offering products for monitoring crops the Raptor Maps system is able to go a step further. “What impressed us with Raptor Maps’ product is that it collects a vast amount of data, distills it down and correlates actions that a grower can take on a season-to-season basis—something we haven’t seen in other drone products.”

In addition to Raptor Maps—the fourth company added to the portfolio—the Commercial Drone Fund has also invested in Cape Productions Inc., a drone-based service that allows users to fly a drone through the internet. The Fund has also invested in Red Bird, a surveying and software system that utilizes drones for construction sites, mines and quarries, and, Sky-Futures, a drone-based industrial inspections firm that has gained recognition for its work on offshore oil and gas infrastructure.