With limited time frames and resources, farming isn’t exactly a walk in the park, especially given today’s environmental and economic challenges. Over the decades many technological innovations have made the lives of farmers and agronomists easier. Now, with smaller and smarter systems being developed, innovations can be made in areas which have historically been too niche or difficult for technology to have a positive impact.

One such area is monitoring crops from the air; looking for pests, mapping out land, evaluating crop/heard health, and so forth. HayBeeSee – a startup headed by aeronautical engineer Fred Miller – is taking on these challenges with a new drone system aimed at agronomists aptly named the CropHopper.

The machine differs from a conventional drone, which has limited endurance due to the constant strain put on the battery while flying. Rather than running all four of the quadcopter propellers constantly, the team behind CropHopper designed a new system which preserves battery life.

Two carbon-fiber arms – similar in design to an archery bow – are tensed using wire on either side run through winding mechanisms. The tensed arms can then be released, bouncing the drone into the air with relatively little energy consumption and without causing damage to crops. As the drone is propelled into the air, the four blades are then engaged for a short burst as the camera captures images of the field. The drone then softly lands and repeats the same process every 4 seconds, covering roughly 10 square meters with each jump.

The process of taking and saving images is sped up by the drones ability to sync to the cloud, which it does after processing the images onboard to detect pests and weeds. The images could then be sent to agronomy software for future planning.

While such technology is still in it’s infancy, the CropHopper systems ability to detect pests and weeds with such efficiency could prove extremely beneficial to farmers.

While such technology is still in it’s infancy, the CropHopper systems ability to detect pests and weeds with such efficiency could prove extremely beneficial to farmers. The team also highlighted future plans for the project, including spot spraying and removing weeds using an attached rotary hoe.

Current tests being undertaken in the UK have yielded promising results while attempting to identify early stage growth black-grass; while conventional crop walkers failed to identify any black-grass, the CropHopper was able to spot large quantities due to it’s high resolution sensor and flying height from the ground, allowing it to see at angles under rocks and in small holes.

While this is impressive, the team are looking to improve the drones current capabilities by developing it’s own algorithm for image analysis – the team claims their algorithm is already capable of identifying threats such as pests and diseases –  able to alert farmers of threats in real time.

Lawrence Couzens – an agronomist for HayBeeSee – claims that the capabilities of the CropHopper are of great importance to farmers and agronomists trying to work within tight time frames. “CropHopper will work every 2 days, which is frequent enough to spot the first aphids in the crop during spring.”

While the field testing on the CropHopper are still underway, the team believe that the system will help farmers increase yields by 20%. The ability to produce high resolution images to assess crops, along with it’s claimed efficiency of almost 100% (in contrast to regular drones with an efficiency of 5%-15%, and without needing a pilot) could lighten the work load for farmers and agronomists, allowing more time to focus on more essential tasks.

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