Farmers get low-down on agricultural drones

Last updated 06:51 06/06/2014
Drone
Fairfax NZ
LIFTOFF: Aeronavics' Coenraad Brand demonstrates one of Aeronavics' unmanned aerial vehicles to farmers near Glen Murray.

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A Waikato company that builds remote aerial drones believes the craft could be the next big tool adopted by New Zealand farmers.

Known as drones, multicopters or unmanned areal vehicles (UAV), these gadgets have huge applications for farmers, Aeronavics' Simon Thomson told farmers at a Beef+ Lamb field day near Glen Murray.

The UAVs are designed and manufactured by Aeronavics out of their office at Raglan. The craft are sold as kits or come complete.

Thomson and some of his fellow staff showed how the UAVs could be used by farmers at the field day.

"Ninety-eight per cent of what we make is exported at the moment and it's quite exciting to have that from a small place in small town New Zealand.

"The multicopter, or UAV market, is expected to be the largest technological field in the world in the next five years and 90 per cent of that growth is expected to be in agriculture," Thomson said.

The craft had only started to come into the public consciousness in the past 18 months, Thomson said.

The craft were originally designed for aerial photography and film work and diversified into other areas, including agriculture as the technology improved.

Onboard cameras allowed live streaming onto the users computer. They could be used to create high accuracy contour maps and applications were being developed that would calculate pasture growth and more precise fertiliser applications and quantify the results the farmer got.

"With this kind of technology, you could apply strips of three of four different fertilisers and then fly a craft every three to five days and measure the response of those."

They could check stock during lambing without any disturbance or farm infrastructure such as fencing. Some prototypes were also able to spot spray weeds in difficult terrain, Thomson said.

The craft are battery powered with a life of about 40 minutes and can hold a 20kg payload.

They have waterproof motors and can handle wind speeds of up to 30kmh. Fairfax NZ

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