Latest drone technology in Palmerston North

"iAbove" owner/operator. Paul Grayson holding a fixed wing drone. On the table is a conventional drone and an image on ...
Warwick Smith/ Fairfax NZ.

"iAbove" owner/operator. Paul Grayson holding a fixed wing drone. On the table is a conventional drone and an image on the laptop created by an infra-red cameras and mapping software.

There's a new kid on the block using the latest drone technology which has a multitude of uses on farms.  Jill Galloway talks to iAbove' s Paul Grayson.

Manawatu has some of the world's latest technology with the development of a fixed wing drone and a quad copter. Both have cameras and can map a farm and do more.

Paul Grayson spent 13 years with the police before starting up a drone company.

"It is new technology and most farmers are coming to grips with it. Education is a big thing - so they know what we can do."

So far Grayson's company, owned and run by him, has navigated drones over about 12 farms.

He says setting up and using the drones has been exciting.

Farms are aerial mapped with information such as drains running through the farm and comparing grass or crops in a paddock to find places where they might not be growing so well.

Grayson shows an infrared photo taken of a paddock from a drone. The pasture images show areas where grass is poor. This might be because the pasture is above a drain, a wet spot or perhaps because it gets less seed or fertiliser.

"So a farmer can use it to analyse their property. Once a farmer knows there is an area where pasture doesn't grow so well, they can go out and find out why. Then they can put the map into their tractor and add more fertiliser or seed in that spot if it needs that."

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Overlaying the 3D mapping  information gained from the drone makes the technology worthwhile, says Grayson.

Older farmers are more used to maps on paper and some farmers only want that.

But the fixed wing drone and helicopter drone are capable of much more.

"Our technology helps your productivity. Boost your yields, cut your costs and drive your agricultural business forward,"  he says.

 iAbove uses remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) and if Grayson is in a controlled flight area (Palmerston North or Ohakea mainly), there are restrictions, and he has to prepare a flight plan.

"The controllers are usually good to deal with.  We have to provide them with a drone flight plan.  If it is Ohakea, they might say fly below 100 feet, or maybe fly another day, as they have trainers flying that day."

Grayson says commercial drone users are aware of the rules and are not the centre of concerns.

"It's little Johnnie who got a drone for Christmas and has no idea what the regulations are, or that they exist."

Grayson left the police last year after 13 years service. 

Since then he has been building up the business  researching and training and now he is in the marketing phase.

Four pamphlets are aimed at different markets - farming, performance sports, real estate and emergency response.

He says the drones provide options for the police at an accident site, when a road might be closed for hours.

"I can send up a drone, map in 3D the area for the police or accident people to look at later.  The roads can be cleared and open. it would also be good in a siege.  You could send up a drone and it can send back real time pictures.  If worst came to worst a drone might be shot out of the sky. It can be replaced."

For search and rescue drones have infrared technology and could find people quickly,  rather than searchers looking for days.  People might be found in hours as a drone can cover a lot of ground and bodies more quickly recovered.

Drones are also being used in performance sport such as mountain boarding, trick skiing in the snow, or para-skiing on water.

The other use Grayson wants to promote is in real estate as drones produce a better defined photo of a house and farm, than Google Earth images.

"With the majority of buyers viewing properties online, never has it been more important  to have high quality photographs and videos"

So iAbove uses its quad copter drone for real estate images priced from $80 an hour.

He says drones are also valuable in a flood or earthquake and is marketing them to regional and local councils.

Also on Grayson's hit-list are large farming operations..

The fixed wing aeroplane with  a Canon camera attached is used for farm mapping usually and is controlled by a laptop, flying for 45 minutes on one battery.

The quad copter has four rotors and  flies for 20 minutes on one battery.

Grayson says the cost of drones is not so much, but software is needed to turn the pictures the drone takes into a useful map, picture  or video.

Farm packages start at $1200 depending on the needs of a farmer.
Grayson says younger farmers or farm managers can often see how the drone technology can best be used.

"It is still new.  Contractors are probably going to use it first.  But it can save the farmer money."

 - Stuff

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