ATI teams with MicaSense for precision agriculture expansion

By Patrick C. Miller | October 01, 2014

Aerial Technology International (ATI) is expanding its unmanned aerial system technology business into the precision agriculture industry to help farmers make more cost-effective decisions.

Located in Clackamas, Oregon, ATI provides data through video, thermal imaging, multi-spectral imaging and tailored software applications integrated into its UAS technology. The company is teaming with MicaSense, a firm specializing in multi-spectral camera solutions, data processing and analytics.

“A large percentage of the domestic drone sales will be in the agriculture industry,” ATI co-founder Stephen Burtt said of the company’s decision to expand. “We happen to have a team and a network of people that brought all the pieces necessary to actually do this. The partnership with MicaSense was the final keystone that made it all work.”

In addition, Burtt said ATI’s location played a role in its expansion into precision agriculture.

“Being located in the Willamette Valley, we’re in a nice location to support the vineyards and local farms around here,” he said.

ATI was formed in 2011 by Burtt and Lawrence Dennis to provide UAS operators with support, education and resources for aerial video, photography, inspections, research and mapping.

MicaSense designed a proprietary, lightweight multi-spectral camera to remotely capture videos and photos of crops. The application senses different colors of light and provides data processing, mapping strategies and analytics to determine crop vigor.

“Being on the aircraft manufacturing side, we build platforms for sensors,” Burtt noted. “There’s a lot of companies all around the world doing amazing things with creating new sensors. The helicopter is the ideal platform for putting these sensors into sensitive areas without leaving a footprint.”

The data collected by ATI’s UAVs will assist farmers in tracking the health of their crops, detecting irrigation problems, pesticide spraying needs, assessing crop yields, identifying insect invasions and tracking cattle. The ability to predict problems allows time to correct issues before damage occurs.

MicaSense will also provide a data processing service to ATI’s customers.

“We’ll set up our own portal so that our customers can go straight through ATI and get all of their imaging processed,” Burtt explained. “It makes us a one-stop shop by letting them take care of the back-end work for us.”

As an example of how ATI can assist farmers, Burtt said that in vineyards, it’s crucial to know when grapes are at optimal ripeness for picking.

“Farmers do this now by walking the individual rows and looking at the grapes, but we could fly over and within about an hour, create a map that shows the exact sectors of the vineyard that are ripe before others,” he said.

Burtt said potential customers have been impressed with the level of detail UAS technology can provide.

“When they use manned systems, they’re seeing wider swaths, but the resolution is low. They’re looking at large square pixels and blobs on a map,” he said.

A UAV using the MicaSense camera can see individual rows and individual plants because it flies much lower than a manned aircraft.

“One of the first comments was, ‘Wow! You can see the individual rows of the vines,” Burtt related. “That, to farmers, is incredibly valuable as opposed to seeing a blurry, colored map.”

Burtt views precision agriculture as one of the logical applications for the early commercial use of UAS technology.

“It’s just inherently a much safer place to operate,” he noted. “Drones are being vetted and there are still some kinks to work out, but operating them over farmland is much safer than what some other people doing.”