The presence of drones in this present age is nothing comparable with what was available in the previous ones. But as much as it is being incorporated in man everyday life, one major aspect that is fast becoming open to it and its functionality is the everyday man farmland.
Farmers today are using drones to do everything from check on the health of their crops. Even to apply pesticides to conserve water. With Smartphone apps that enable control from the push of button and at a cost that is far lower than hiring a specialized pilot, more and more farmers are turning to drones to be their “eye in the sky.”
Companies like DroneDeploy, Precision Drone and AgEagle are part of a new breed of companies tackling this space. And over the last few years, they’ve revolutionized much of the way that farming is done.
An instance is the searching for health issues among crops. This has long been done by simply monitoring the fields on foot. A tedious task under even the best of conditions. But a massive headache when you’re talking about ten-foot tall cornfields that have to be navigated in the middle of a blazing hot summer. With drones, farmers can send unmanned vehicles out into the field to spot infection, plant seeds. And likewise identify areas that need further irrigation.
DroneDeploy was founded by long-time friends and South African natives Nicholas Pilkington, Jono Millin, and Michael Winn. Pilkington and Millin earned their PhDs in machine learning, at Cambridge University and the University of Edinburgh respectively.
While living in the U.K. they reconnected with one another and with Winn, who had taken a job in Google’s Dublin office. One afternoon Winn showed up at a park with gifts for Millin and Pilkington: two radio-controlled helicopters. It wasn’t long before they began modifying the helicopters, adding small digital cameras to their front ends.
They were reported to have said that they thought it was really cool. But there was no first-person view feed so you couldn’t see anything. We would set the camera to take a photo, fly around for a while and then sort through 800 pictures to find a good one after cropping it and readjusting it to make it look reasonable. Previously it was really expensive and complicated to do this. You needed to have hardware and training to be a pilot. And here we were, a couple of guys flying these remote controlled helicopters and getting these professional-quality aerial photos,” Millin recalled.
Over time, their modified RC helicopters and the aerial photography they were capturing started to get noticed. The helicopters gave way to drones with autopilot capabilities and the trio started to see business potential.
Industries like construction, mining, agriculture, forest conservation, and search and rescue could all benefit from this kind of imagery. There was this very cool piece of hardware, but what was missing was easy-to-use software that was reliable. And predictable so somebody who doesn’t even know how to fly a drone can go out and make a 3D map.”
In addition to its applications within agriculture, DroneDeploy makes it easy for anyone to turn a drone with a camera into a mapping tool. Creating 3D maps that are made of thousands of images stitched together.
Pilkington was reported to have said that this was the brain behind the establishment of the company. That is, the desire to make it easy for anyone not just to operate a drone. But to also get data out of them that would help drive business decisions.
And in his own words, “I think that the proliferation of drones has been really exciting to see on the hardware side and we want to match that accessibility on the software side. We want to help people use drones to do valuable things regardless of what industry they’re in.”