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Drone Automation for Agriculture: World’s First Crop Tended Only by Drone, and American Robotics’ Scout

Hands Free Hectare has successfully planted, tended, and harvested the world’s very first crop without a single hand ever touching the farming equipment. The effort was accomplished with the use of drones and robot-driven machinery.

The farm where the project was completed is about two and 1/2 acres in size and is located in the U.K. The yield from the effort was 4 and 1/2 tons of barley, and the total cost for the project was $250,000.


The automated farm was created in a partnership between Harper Adams University in Shropshire, England, and Precision Decisions, a farming specialist company in York.

Agronomists and engineers used customized tractors and drones to cultivate the barley. For hardware, the team used commercially available agricultural technology coupled with open-source software used in hobbyist drones—the drone software was modified to work with all of the machinery employed, not just the drones.

Tractors and harvesters were fitted with robotic arms controlled by drone software. At first the machines were controlled remotely, and then they were made autonomous, ultimately running without any direct human attention. Using GPS, the machines were able to navigate to specific locations in the farm and perform pre-programmed actions there, like planting seeds or watering.

Hands Free Hectare says the project is not about putting farmers out of work but instead about modernizing their efforts. As they imagine the future, a farmer will oversee a fleet of robots, all performing tasks that previously required intense manual labor by people.

How Were Drones Used in the Hands Free Project?

Drones have been used in agriculture for a while now, but this project was the first time where drones were part of a fully autonomous operation.

So how did they do it?

Drones helped tend the crops at the Hands Free Hectare farm in part by using multispectral imagery to identify where the barley was first starting to emerge from the soil.

Drones with multispectral sensors took aerial images of the field, while smaller machines at crop level took samples to assess what fertilizers to apply, and where. Live camera feeds were used to detect invasive weeds or disease.


Pictured above is what the Hands Free Hectare team calls the “drone barley snatch.” This device uses a kind of clamshell dangling down from the drone to collect barley in order to find out if the crop is ready for harvesting.


Drone software was used to automate all of the farm machinery, but this did come with some complications. It turned out that the autopilot in the drone systems used wasn’t designed to travel in a completely straight line, but simply to get the drone from point A to point B in the most efficient manner.

This meant that if the software hit a rock while operating a tractor, it would navigate around it instead of plowing straight through it, which would lead to squiggly rows of crops instead of straight ones.

To fix this problem, engineers had to adjust the code to produce straighter steering, regardless of the terrain.

We believe that in the future farmers will manage fleets of smaller, autonomous vehicles.

– Jonathan Gill, Researcher at Harper Adams University

American Robotics’ Scout

Right on the heels of Hands Free Hectare’s announcement about the first world’s first autonomous crop of barley, American Robotics has launched their ag drone, appropriately called Scout (appropriate since it’s built to scout crops for signs of stress or other potential problems).

Scout is built for automating farm work. It can’t tend crops, like the custom octocopters used by Hands Free Hectare, but it can help a farmer collect all of the data needed to get the maximum yield from their fields.

Full-automation is a key ingredient in the future of precision farming, and we’re eager and excited to finally deliver this capability to our customers.

– Reese Mozer, Co-Founder and CEO of American Robotics

The new American Robotics drone is a self-charging, self-managing system capable of autonomously carrying out daily scouting missions.


According to American Robotics, traditional scouting techniques on farms don’t adequately detect crop stress, and this leads to huge amounts of lost crops that could otherwise be saved.

What’s their proposed solution? Drone scouting automation, via Scout.

Scout autonomously performs:

  • Planning
  • Launch
  • Flight
  • Imaging
  • Landing
  • Charging
  • Data Management
  • Drone Storage

You can literally just leave the drone alone and it will fly missions and deliver data back to you on a regular time table, according to your plans. Once installed within a farmer’s field it requires no manual intervention to plan, fly, or manage.

One interesting thing to note about the Hands Free Hectare project is that drone software seems to be making new kinds of automation possible for other machines, not just drones. We’ve written before about how the development of drone technology has simultaneously pushed the development of A.I. forward (this is something Intel’s CEO spoke about at InterDrone earlier this year). It’s pretty impressive to see new, creative ways that drone technology is helping push other industries forward.

When looking at this technology, it seems like the future will hold a lot less manual labor for humans—if we can get there. There is still a long ways to go from a functioning idea to a scalable, cost-effective solution adopted by the majority of people in any industry. We’ll certainly be curious to see how things develop.

The post Drone Automation for Agriculture: World’s First Crop Tended Only by Drone, and American Robotics’ Scout appeared first on UAV Coach.

Drones Used for First Time Ever by L.A. Fire Department

For the first time ever drones are being used by the Los Angeles Fire Department in their efforts to combat the tremendous wildfires that have been ravaging the city and surrounding areas.

The drones will be used mainly to perform assessments of the property damage that’s been done by the Creek Fire near Sylmar and the Skirball Fire in the Bel Air and Sepulveda Pass, both in the L.A. area.

The drone will fly over, locate hotspots, and then we’ll dispatch our firefighters to get final extinguishment in that area. We’re very, very proud of that new technology.

– Los Angeles Fire Department Chief Ralph Terrazas

Last Thursday L.A. firefighters flew drones over the Skirball fire in the first ever flights performed “in an operational environment” (as opposed to training and test environments).


For safety reasons, the fire department will not use drones at the same time as other fire fighting aircraft.

On the same note, just a reminder that drone pilots in the area should avoid flying at all unless working directly with the authorities overseeing the firefighting effort. More on why this is so important can be found in our article on the If You Fly, We Can’t educational effort to spread awareness among drone pilots about the dangers of flying during ongoing firefighting operations.

The L.A. Fire Department’s Drone Program

The L.A. Fire Department’s drone program is headed up by Derrick Ward, a Drone Pilot Ground School alum who was recently featured in our article, From Free Flights to $250 an Hour: How Derrick Ward Built Hot Shots Aerial Photography.

We already have a group of firefighters FAA-certified to fly drones, and soon drones will be helping with structure and brush fires, and with accidents, water rescues, and a lot more. The L.A. drone program is going to be one of the biggest in the world.

– Derrick Ward, Los Angeles City Fire Department

The L.A. Fire Department provides fire prevention and firefighting for 4 million people, which is a massive responsibility. By ushering in the use of drones, L.A. will become a model for how other cities can incorporate drones into their own operations.

L.A. Fire Chief Terrazas recently explained that using drones is cost-effective, and that we can expect to see more of them in use by the department in the future. Drones eliminate the need for renting infrared camera and flying helicopters over fires, which means both savings and increased safety for firefighting personnel.

Derrick Ward flying near the Skirball fire in L.A.

Drones were originally proposed for operations in the L.A. Fire Department in late June of this year, and guidelines for their use were approved just last month, in November.

The approval came just in time. With last week’s first flight, the department is putting their drones to good use in collecting vital information to help fight the fires where they are still burning.

The post Drones Used for First Time Ever by L.A. Fire Department appeared first on UAV Coach.

Hobbyist Drone Registration Reinstated, Includes a Big Improvement on Original

A new federal law firmly establishes the FAA’s authority to require drone hobbyists to register their drones with the federal government. Any drone weighing between .55 lbs (250 grams) and up to 55 lbs. (25 kg) must now be registered with the FAA, regardless of whether it will be used for work or fun.

[Register your drone with the FAA’s sUAS Registration Service.]

The drone registration requirement is a small part of a new $700 billion defense policy bill signed into law yesterday called the National Defense Authorization Act.

Image source

Back in May a U.S. court of appeals struck down the FAA’s right to require drone hobbyists to register themselves with the FAA. Since then, hobbyist registrations have declined dramatically, and the hobbyist registration process has been in a legal limbo.

This new law firmly establishes FAA authority for requiring hobbyist drone registrations.

However, the new law also makes a big improvement on the original requirement.

Although many major news sources have been saying that the new law reinstates the drone registration requirement, the law actually improves the previous requirement, since it makes hobbyists register their drones instead of themselves as drone owners.

This might seem nit-picky, but the distinction is huge.

By requiring drone hobbyists to register their drones, and not just themselves, we’ll have more accurate data on what drones are being flown where, as well as a higher level of accountability for all drone pilots, regardless of whether they’re flying for fun or for work.

To put this into perspective, the FAA recently released all of their stats on drone registration and drone ownership. The data showed that there were approximately 107,000 drones registered for commercial work in the U.S., and 837,000 hobbyist drone owners registered.

The gap in data between commercial drones and hobbyist drone owners is staggering. Under the FAA’s previous registration requirements, almost nine tenths (or more, since we don’t know how many drones each hobbyist might have owned) of all registered drone owners in the U.S. are not actually connected through any kind official recordkeeping to the drones they fly.

This means that there’s no data on what kinds of drones those people own or where they own them. It also means that, even for hobbyists who followed the rules and registered themselves with the FAA, the accountability factor wasn’t that high since there was no way to connect a hobbyist’s drone back to the pilot.

We welcome the reinstatement of registration rules for all small unmanned aircraft. Ownership identification helps promote safe and responsible drone operation and is a key component to full integration.

– FAA Spokesperson, in a statement to TechCrunch

The new federal law doesn’t just reinstate the previous drone hobbyist registration requirement. It improves upon it significantly.

The Small UAV Coalition, which includes huge corporations like Verizon, Intel, and Walmart, has issued a statement thanking congress for “restoring FAA authority to maintain a national UAS registry for both commercial and recreational operators.”

We feel the same way. This new law will help keep the skies safer, and will be a positive tool for pushing the drone industry forward when it comes to ensuring that all drone operators are accountable for where, when, and how they fly.

The post Hobbyist Drone Registration Reinstated, Includes a Big Improvement on Original appeared first on UAV Coach.

UAV Coach Partners with PCS EdVentures to Support the Use of Drones in STEM Studies


Here at UAV Coach we’re proud to announce a new partnership with PCS Edventures!.com, Inc., (PCSV) a leading provider of K-12 Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programs.

Through the partnership UAV Coach will be offering Drone Pilot Ground School, our flagship remote test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 exam, to PCS Edventures educators and students.

Promoting a safe and positive drone community has always been a core part of our mission, and we’re happy to have found like-minded partners in UAV Coach. Through Drone Pilot Ground School, both students and educators have the opportunity to further their drone education and earn commercial certification through the FAA.

– Michelle Fisher, Director of STEM Development for PCS Edventures

Image source

By supporting student interests through scholarships and training programs, PCS Edventures and UAV Coach are working together to help advance STEM education and drones in the classroom. According to a recent Goldman Sachs research report, the drone industry is expected to exceed $100Bn by 2020, and currently, high school students with drone operator training and a Part 107 license are earning over $50/hour in summer jobs, indicating the extraordinary demand for these skill sets.

We’re excited to work with PCS Edventures to help bring more small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) into the classroom. Drones are an excellent way to get students engaged and also offer a unique career opportunity in a myriad of industries.

– Alan Perlman, CEO and Founder of UAV Coach

The partnership will also help interested high school students learn more about and apply UAV Coach’s scholarship for Drone Pilot Ground School, the High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots.

Scholarship recipients get free access to Drone Pilot Ground School ($299 value) to help them prepare for the Part 107 test. The first 100 scholarship applicants who finish their studying and take the FAA Aeronautical Knowledge Test will also have their FAA test fee ($150) covered by the scholarship. There are an unlimited number of scholarships available, and students are accepted on a rolling, case-by-case basis.

There is no application deadline, but to apply you must be:

  • At least 16 years old
  • Currently enrolled in high school
  • Live in the United States

Learn more about our High School STEM Scholarship for Aspiring Commercial Drone Pilots at https://uavcoach.com/drone-stem-scholarship/


Drones in STEM

More and more, drones are being used to help students learn—and get excited about—STEM subjects in middle, high, and even elementary school (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).

Across the U.S. drones have become a part of robotics classes, coding classes, and even lessons on longitude and latitude. New platforms like DroneBlocks even provide curricula materials for educators who want to use drones in the classroom.

Earlier this year the Atlantic reported on students in the Kentucky Valley Educational Cooperative participating in a competition where they designed, built, engineered, and tested their own drones.

The competition came at the end of a year-long high school class in aerospace and aviation, in which drones figured prominently as opportunities for students to learn various aspects of aerospace engineering and design.

Scenarios like this are cropping up throughout the U.S., and the combination of drones and STEM education is timely, since jobs in STEM fields have been forecasted to grow at an exponential rate over the next several years.

Drones offer an enticing entry point for STEM studies, in that students generally perceive them as cool and fun. Students who start out simply interested in flying may end up excited about STEM studies, and either pursuing a future career in a STEM field—of which there are many—or in the growing drone industry itself.

Along with jobs in STEM fields, the drone industry itself is growing, and there promise to be many new jobs on the horizon for drone pilots who hold a remote pilot license, from aerial cinematography to work in agriculture, forestry, mapping, and much more.

Watch this video to learn more about how PCS Edventures helps teachers incorporate drones into their STEM curricula:


About PCS Edventures!

PCS Edventures!.com, Inc. (OTCPK: PCSV) is a Boise, Idaho company that designs and delivers technology-rich products and services for the K-12 market that develop 21st-century skills. PCS programs emphasize experiential learning in Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Math (STEAM) and have been deployed at over 7,000 sites in all 50 United States and 17 foreign countries. http://www.edventures.com.

About Drone Pilot Ground School

Drone Pilot Ground School is UAV Coach’s online training and test prep course for the FAA’s Part 107 commercial certification process. We have trained over 8,000 U.S. drone pilots, from solo drone operators and small teams to police and fire departments and large organizations. Over 99% of our students pass the Part 107 exam on the first try—learn more at https://www.dronepilotgroundschool.com

The post UAV Coach Partners with PCS EdVentures to Support the Use of Drones in STEM Studies appeared first on UAV Coach.

What Is an Orthomosaic Map? How These Maps Are Helping Catch Bad Guys, Grow Crops, and Keep People Safe

The term orthomosaic map seems to be coming up more and more lately.

At InterDrone this year there were entire sessions devoted to the process behind creating orthomosaic maps, as well as the value they present for various applications.

But what is an orthomosaic map, and how are people actually using them in the field?

Here is a good definition to get us started:

An orthophoto, orthophotograph or orthoimage is an aerial photograph geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) such that the scale is uniform: the photo has the same lack of distortion as a map. Unlike an uncorrected aerial photograph, an orthophotograph can be used to measure true distances, because it is an accurate representation of the Earth’s surface, having been adjusted for topographic relief, lens distortion, and camera tilt.


Put simply, an orthomosaic map is a detailed, accurate photo representation of an area, created out of many photos that have been stitched together and geometrically corrected (“orthorectified”) so that it is as accurate as a map.

Here’s a section of an orthomosaic map of the Facebook campus (view the full, interactive map here):


Note: The actual map allows you to zoom in much closer, so that you can get highly detailed visual information on the site mapped.

How Are People Using Orthomosaic Maps in the Field?

Even though we’ve provided a definition, if you haven’t actually worked with an orthomosaic map (or talked to someone who has), this all may still sound pretty abstract.

To make things more concrete, let’s take a look at some specific examples of how orthomosaic maps are being used in real life. By looking at how people use these maps, we’ll be able to shed more light on what they are.

Police and Fire Departments

Police and fire departments are using orthomosaic maps in several ways:

  • Mapping highly frequented locations in cities, such as malls and schools. In the event of an active shooter scenario, fire, or other disaster that would require an evacuation or some kind of tactical response, these maps can help responders better understand the specific situation they’ll be facing when they arrive on the scene, and prepare themselves accordingly.
  • Documenting crime scenes. Sometimes there isn’t enough time to fully comb a crime scene in person, and even if you do, you might miss something. An orthomosaic map allows investigators to look back over a crime scene after they’ve left—at InterDrone, we heard a story about a bloody cell phone being located with one of these maps, which ultimately helped identify a suspect in a homicide investigation.
  • Mapping after disasters. Orthomosaic maps can provide detailed accounts of the damage in a given location so that responders can understand what they are walking into, and accurately assess the damage done to the infrastructure and surrounding area.

Check out this fire loss assessment orthomosaic map to see how these maps can be used to document damage following a fire.


Real Estate

Orthomosaic maps are being used in real estate to provide detailed, interactive maps of properties, which help realtors in their efforts to sell them. An orthomosaic map made for real estate purposes could be of a small area, such as a house, or it could cover thousands of acres of property.

Typically they’re used to showcase large properties or estates, since it can be difficult to show a prospective client the entire piece of land and/or details of the buildings on the property when they are so spread out.

Below is a section of an orthomosaic map of a school and farm in New Zealand. This is the kind of property that would be really hard to capture on the ground, or even by walking around in person, making it perfect for an ortho map.


Note: This picture is only a portion of the full ortho map. Check out the full, interactive map on the DroneDeploy website.


Orthomosaic maps can help provide detailed updates on the progress of a construction project, since they allow you to zoom in and see different parts of the building(s) under construction, as well as related resources.

Here is an image taken from an orthomosaic map of a hospital that is under construction:


Check out the full interactive map on DroneDeploy.


Orthomosaic maps can help conservationists in their efforts in a number of ways by providing a detailed, accurate map of the conditions in a given area.

Mapping forests and their growth, sand dunes and their movements, or the level of water in an area that houses a protected species of birds—these are all examples of how ortho maps are being used in the field when it comes to conservation.

Image source


Want to know how your crops are doing today? Or how they were doing on the same day a year ago?

Ortho maps can help farmers get insights into how their crops are doing, and also allow for keeping a highly accurate record of the crops on a piece of land over time.

Image source

To learn more about orthomosaic maps and how they’re being used, check out the National Digital Orthoimagery Program. The NDOP manages and coordinates overhead imagery for civil government needs throughout the U.S.

You can also take a look at DroneDeploy’s Drone Map Gallery for more examples of orthomosaic and other types of maps created by drones—they have one of the most thorough libraries of examples that we’ve found on the web.

Want to dive into drone mapping? Check out our free beginner’s guide to drone mapping software. For an even deeper dive, enroll in our partner course, Mapping and 3D Modeling 101.

The post What Is an Orthomosaic Map? How These Maps Are Helping Catch Bad Guys, Grow Crops, and Keep People Safe appeared first on UAV Coach.

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