Drones, revolutionizing agriculture from the sky

Published by Telefónica IoT Team Industrial

Drones are here to stay. Despite the difficulties inherent in its legislation, the obstacles to its pilots and other issues that remain in the limbo of its evolution, drones are a promising tool for analysis. Drones can be used both for agronomic production and for livestock, in which they propose a substantial change in the production paradigm. They also create a completely new niche in leisure, industry and almost any sector imaginable. And, as it could not be less, the Internet of Things is the perfect intermediary.

The decade of the drones

Although the concept of drone, an unmanned ship, is already old, it has been during the last decade when these devices have begun to fly our fields and cities regularly. Although they are better known in the area of audiovisual production (as well as in the recreational segmentation), drones to improve agriculture or industry are a major innovation. What had been hours before, is now done in minutes. What was once the result of luck or weather, now can adjust instantly. All this, of course, translates into greater efficiency in production: more quantity and more quality. So much so that it is expected that 80% of the drones that will fly by 2020 will be used in the field of agriculture.

In addition to substantial improvement in production, drones also promise to create new business models associated with them. These models involve the technological development of things as disparate as cameras, applications and control software and analysis or the actual drones themselves. The drones business applied to agriculture, experts say, can mean a substantial increase of several thousand dollars per tonne, as well as a significant reduction in production costs. On what issues will we appreciate these changes?

Better than an airplane

Raising a light airplane, however small, suppose considerable cost. As well as a significant environmental impact by fuel consumption. In comparison, a drone is practically harmless. It is easy to transport, fast, handy and efficient. In addition, it is able to accurately obtain an enormous amount of data of interest to the farmer. If something goes wrong in the analysis, the thing is as simple as changing the battery to the drone (if necessary) and releasing it. In a few minutes and with little effort, the drones have surpassed the telemetric light aircraft used at the dawn of digitization (just a few decades ago).

Watching the fields from the sky is a more efficient way to keep track of large areas. Literally, this saves hours of work and increases the effectiveness of reviews. But this has never been so true as with the appearance of drones applied to agriculture. Thanks to these, the control is maximum and the resource consumption is minimal. Thanks to the drones, farmers can revolutionize their production systems. And it is no longer necessary to fly over the field with a small plane. This, of course, requires substantial changes in cropping patterns. Changes in which the IoT takes a special role.

Field analysis in just a few minutes

As we said, drones open the door to the emergence of affordable and effective scientific agriculture. Thanks to the analysis through specialized cameras (with infrared or ultraviolet detection, for example) we can detect the radiation absorbed by the field, water leaks or even a disease in the bud. Using this data with the Internet of Things we can analyze the data in real time. The application of models associated with Big Data allows us to do an analysis of patterns and forecast of harvest conditions, for example. All this, thanks to the computer tools, generates for the farmer the ability to make immediate decisions to increase the quantity and quality of its production.

This is the case of José Luis Lubiano, for example, a farmer from Bodegas Emilio Moro, from Pesquera del Duero, who efficiently employs drones to maintain absolute control of their vineyards. Thanks to the work of Hemav, in collaboration with Telefónica, drones are able to fly and control the state of their crops, acquiring a valuable amount of information that will be transferred to software designed for the integral management of the crop: VisualNACert. Through this software, the winery engineers can decide the best strategy for their crops with real and instant values.

IoT in the core of the drones

As we said, separate the future of the drones from IoT is difficult, if not impossible. IoT creates a context of high interest for a Telco such as Telefónica. The reason lies in its fields of application. In particular, areas such as security, connectivity and control are the subject in which IoT is having a greater development during the last years, sectors of maximum interest for the telecommunications industry. From the development of secure e2e solutions, something essential for devices that could transport goods or review sensitive data, through the integrity of the data they collect and keep, the safety of drones is worked at various levels. Connectivity is another field of frenetic development. Currently, the 3G and 4G networks seem sufficient to connect these unmanned spacecraft to their tasks. But with increasing needs, as well as the number of drones, especially when we talk about rural areas, new connectivity solutions must be deployed to meet all needs.

Monitor or control is another section in which IoT takes the lead. Controlling such vehicles is a concern for regulatory agencies and entities. Currently, the legislation is very severe with the handling of drones in public spaces. However, legislation could be more collaborative in the case of having tools to control and monitor these unmanned spacecraft in potentially dangerous cases. In order to develop these measures, it is necessary to make all IoT resources available to drones, including the use of ground stations, beacons and sensors to create a detection and control network. In general, drones will benefit from all the development created in the context of the Internet of Things, reasons more than justified for a Telco to pay special attention.

The future passes through unmanned navigation

Drones promise an innovative and much more effective future in agricultural production. Estimates indicate that there is currently an investment of $6.4 billion annually in the development of technologies associated with drones. This figure is expected to grow to $11 billion in 2024. These figures are surprising and very juicy. But not for less. The drones represent a revolution in transportation, analysis and, as we see, in agricultural production. Today, drones are used in all sorts of environments: in science, drones are especially useful in archaeology, biology or ecology. They allow access to unreachable points, monitor populations or analyze patterns in the wild, with just a glance.

There is no need to refer to the military world, which has been taking advantage of these robots for all kinds of uses. In the area of citizen security, the police are beginning to use them in the monitoring of events, traffic control and other issues. Amazon has been the first big company to employ the drones in delivering, moving goods and taking them to their buyer. And these are just some of the examples beyond agriculture in which drones are gathering strength. In the latter, drones allow field analysis, a design of more efficient plantings, field monitoring or even plant automation, which can reduce production start-up costs by 85%.

If so, who would not bet on these tools? However, like all technologies in development, drones still have to go a long way to set up shop. First, there is no unified international law and this makes differences between countries, even within the European Union. Secondly, it is important to keep in mind that professional drones require their pilots to be certified. However, this requirement becomes complicated by being regulated by various organisms. Finally, the autonomy of the batteries has to continue to evolve, since, its weight and capacity, although improving, are still a handicap in some occasions. Although these issues need to be further developed, it is clear that drone technology will give wings to society, and never better.

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Telefónica IoT Team