AgEagle finds success supplying precision ag with advanced UAVs

By Luke Geiver | October 30, 2014

Bret Chilcott and Tom Nichols have already seen the future of the unmanned aerial vehicle industry. Since January, the founders of Kansas-based AgEagle LLC, a UAV manufacturing company focused on agriculture-based application, have sold 130 units. Roughly three years ago, the team of three transitioned away from a business built on custom fiberglass and composite services to a firm focused on supplying UAVs to farmers. The company released its second UAV offering this month, AgEagle Rapid, and the growing business is already receiving requests for the new product.

AgEagle provides a fixed wing UAV with a foot-operated launcher. The system begins tabulating its own scan patterns as soon as it ascends, adjusting its flight pattern for wind and other factors all while optimizing lens focus and camera settings, according to the company. Roughly 15 to 20 minutes after photos are taken, geo-referenced aerial images are uploaded to Rapid’s cloud-based automated data transfer network. A client using the AgEagle can then view the images on a smartphone or tablet and begin working with their desired farm management software of choice to create prescriptions and remedy plans for trouble areas highlighted in the images.

The system is fixed wing to eliminate moving parts and to offer users better stability and maneuverability in harsh winds often present during spring planting seasons.

During the prototype development of the AgEagle package, Chilcott worked with Kansas State University, a relationship that helped him see the merits of UAV use in precision agriculture, according to Tom Nichods, business development director for the company. AgEagle also learned what a UAV designed for farmers would need. According to Nichols, the AgEagle package can be operated by a single person from the time it is launched to the time it lands. And, the systems software package is easy to use and understand, an element that decreases the learning curve for new users.

After working with KSU on a UAV designed for farmers and ranchers, the school mentioned to Chilcott that he should offer the system on a commercial basis. But, it wasn’t until Chilcott and Nichols attended a precision ag event that they truly committed to doing so. “We went to the event in the winter and there were several farmers in their field gear, overalls and all,” Nichols said. Soon after sitting down, many of the farmers pulled out their iPads and lab tops and began talking about the highly technical details of their farming operations. “We presented about the potential of UAVs in agriculture and we were swamped with people after the show that wanted to buy our product,” he said. “If we would have had the ability to sell 10 units at the show we could have.”

Following their experience at the event, the team reached out to all clients associated with their custom composite business and told them they were moving all of their work into the development and offerings of UAVs.

The duo has since grown the company from three to ten. They have worked with several farm management software providers, payload providers and others to learn which offerings will work best with the AgEagle UAV platform. Although the system can use several payload offerings, Nichols said they have found a hand-full of cameras and sensors that work better than others.

The company focuses on working with precision agriculture firms, agronomists and even individual farmers. Current clients are buying the AgEagle products and using them as hobbyists to become accustomed to the system and learn how to best integrate it into everyday operations before the 2015 growing season starts, Nichols said.

The current AgEagle Rapid product is available for purchase from the company directly or from dealerships that offer precision agriculture consulting and products. The product is being sold in the U.S., Australia and the U.K. AgEagle is currently largest UAV manufacturer devoted to the precision agriculture industry, according to the company.