From the Ground Up to Scaling Up

Unique UAV event puts multiple eBee drones in the air for simultaneous, planned flight RDO-UAV

Author: Lindsay Paulson, RDO Equipment Co.

 

A dozen individuals from 10 states and numerous industries – what could they possibly all have in common?

On October 13 and 14, at a rural farm site near Billings, Montana, this group of professionals came together to participate in an event focused on one popular topic: Drones.

Led by the team from RDO Integrated Controls, 12 seasoned drone experts, across numerous industries, gathered to be part of a unique event and pioneering experiment in the drone world. An event and experiment devised from simple conversations between Sean Erickson, Technology Support Specialist with RDO Integrated Controls, and a few of his customers, drone leaders in their respective fields.

Setting the Scene
A division of RDO Equipment Co., RDO Integrated Controls provides solutions through GPS, lasers, GIS, survey, machine control, and UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) technology. The company sells and supports senseFly, a leading UAV manufacturer, and its eBee and albris drones.

With the level of expertise and leadership it provides to professionals interested in UAV technology, RDO Integrated Controls makes it a mission to have a knowledgeable team dedicated to this area, as well as resources customers need to successfully implement drones in their businesses.

Erickson had received a request from a customer to create a “how-to” type document based on drone applications. After thinking about it and discussing the concept with a few veteran drone customers, Erickson had a spin-off idea.

“Instead of creating a document with info, tips, and best practices, I started thinking, what if we held an event that would bring together drone experts across different industries to talk about applications, discuss ideas, and share knowledge,” he said.

Erickson began pitching the idea to experienced drone customers, particularly those with hundreds of flights under their belts. As interest grew and discussions continued, ideas started snowballing. One idea, in particular, became the basis on which the entire drone event would be based.

eBee to the 10th
“I knew there were cases of companies putting multiple drones in the air at one time,” Erickson said. “But I hadn’t seen a fully-coordinated drone mapping mission with multiple aircraft.”

Theoretically, Erickson was certain a planned multi-drone mission would work. And he felt the event would be an opportunity to put his theory to the test.

“At first, we thought about trying to fly two drones simultaneously,” Erickson said. Some customers were already doing this regularly so he then thought about going for five. Then, Erickson said, the thought was, “If we can do five, why not go for 10?”

Furthermore, 10 was an easy number to show scale and thus, 10 eBees flying simultaneously became the final goal for the event.

An event that had shaped up as an opportunity to prove Erickson’s original theory.

An event that had several drone professionals eager to take part in this first-time experiment.

An event, which became known as the eBee to the 10th, that was about to come to life.

Bringing It All Together
Day one of the eBee10 was focused on discussions about all-things in UAV industry including field gear, Part 107 testing, and data processing. Every attendee brought a unique topic to present, a format Erickson devised as a way to steer clear of lecture-style learning and instead encourage discussions and sharing of knowledge between attendees.

It was on the morning of day two that the experimental mission was scheduled. But before the group could head out into the field and test Erickson’s theory, the flight plan had to be finalized.

“Late on Thursday night I, my colleague, Dennis Louton, and two of our attendees, Dennis Ryan of Vertical Sciences, Inc., and Jordan Kessel of Baranko Brothers, Inc., created the flight plan,” Erickson said. They continued work into the early morning hours, testing the plan in the simulator and tweaking it until they had the final, working flight plan.

The following morning, Erickson and Ryan presented the plan to the team, at which time Erickson said he gave all attendees the chance to withdraw from the experiment.

“I knew what we were doing was unprecedented,” he said. “If, after seeing the plan and simulation, anyone felt it was too risky, I wanted them to have the opportunity to bow out.” Instead, the group was more excited than ever, and at 9 a.m. they headed to the site.

The test site was a private farmstead with 125 acres of mapped flight area. Erickson arranged permission to use the site while Dennis Ryan, as air boss, filed the Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) as well as notified the local air tower of all details related to the test, including closing out the NOTAM when the mission was complete.

The launching and landing was done in two groups of five drones. After the first group launched, the second was launched a few seconds later, and all 10 were in the air simultaneously performing a single mapping mission, and controlled by a unified Ground Control Station. Five pilots were responsible for launching, landing, and observation, while five controlled the flight plan via onsite computers. Erickson was onsite safety office and Louton served as logistics officer, providing equipment and technology support. Radio communications kept the pilots in touch with each other and the local air tower.

 

The result? The eBee drones flew the flight plan, which covered 125 acres in seven minutes.

“It was quick and effective,” Erickson said of the experiment. “We showed that 10 drones could execute a flight plan simultaneously.”

Assessing Impact
While Erickson’s experiment proved what he originally set out to do, it also demonstrated another important concept: scalability. He explained, “To see 10 drones cover 125 acres in just seven minutes, shows that it’s possible to cover 1,000 acres in one hour. That’s huge.”

Generally speaking, a single UAV can map about 100 acres per hour. Substantial, for example, when comparing the time spent for a crop scout to walk fields or a crew to survey a jobsite. But to show the significance of the scalable opportunity provided by multiple drones, Erickson used an example of an emergency response scenario.

Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. Imagine a disaster of such magnitude today. It would require a full-scale emergency response plan, which could include UAV technology; for example, searching for survivors using heat-mapping capabilities of drones.

See below to see the scalability opportunity with drones in this scenario:

640:         Acres in a Square Mile
170:          Square Miles (Land) of the city of New Orleans
108,800: Acres in the city of New Orleans

1,088:      Approx. hours it would take one UAV to map the city
45:            Approx. days it would take one UAV to map the city (assuming 24-hour days)
108:          Approx. days it would take one UAV to map the city (assuming realistic 10-hour days; daylight)

108:          Approx. hours it would take 10 UAVs to map the city
4.5:           Approx. days it would take 10 UAVs to map the city (assuming 24-hour days)
10:            Approx. days it would take 10 UAVs to map the city (assuming realistic 10-hour days; daylight)

It’s easy to see the potential impact of a multi-drone flight in this type of scenario.

And certainly this shows possibilities for companies of all sizes to grow with the ability to get more done, faster, using multiple drones. But, Erickson also took into consideration the hidden value in these results. How could this info apply to construction, roadbuilding, or engineering companies not necessarily looking to grow or interested in trying to operate multiple drones?

One example he noted was in partnerships between companies saying, “A construction company, an engineering firm, and a surveyor could team up for a project that they, individually, may not have been able to do.” This co-op model he describes would enable small companies to win projects against larger, full-service companies, potentially opening the doors to new clients and diversification of services.

Next Steps
While the event has ended, Erickson says his and his colleagues’ work is far from over. As he has begun analyzing the flight data from the eBee10, he has already found some areas that could be improved – likely, in the eBee10: Version 2.

“Yes, we definitely plan to hold another event like this,” an enthusiastic Erickson said.

Until that date, Erickson has stayed in touch with all engaged customers via a MeetUp website. Both eBee10 attendees and customers who were interested but unable to make it to the event have access to the site, designed with Erickson’s original goal in mind – to bring together drone experts to talk about applications, discuss ideas, and share knowledge.

To say UAV technology is affecting the world is an understatement. Across numerous industries, drones are making work safer, faster, and more accurate than ever imaginable. As knowledge continues to grow, so too will the possibilities – and opportunities.

Contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls to learn more about complete UAV offerings.

Applications for Drones in Agriculture

Type of imagery plays major role in desired applications Drone-Agriculture

Author: Nate Dorsey, RDO Equipment Co.

The June 2016 update to the FAA’s Part 107 regulations for flying drones is just one factor contributing to the increase of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) use in several industries, including agriculture. But that’s only half of the story. As anyone in business knows, in order for a tool to make sense on a worksite, it first has to make sense on the bottom line.

In order to see a return from a drone investment on your farm, you need to know how to use a drone to save time, improve efficiency, and increase yields. Then, the real key to unlocking the true value of a drone comes from understanding the technology behind it.

Aerial Imagery
The high-quality images produced by drones are used for everything from pre-season scouting to monitoring crop health to identifying equipment issues. Drones produce three common image types:

Color (RGB)

-RGB images are similar to photos from a regular camera. They’re easy to understand, even for the novice drone user, but are the least descriptive of the three types.

Near Infrared (NIR)

-NIR provides images with higher levels of detail than those produced by RGB by utilizing color bands outside the light spectrum visible to the human eye.

Normalized Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI)

-NDVI uses both visible and near-infrared sunlight reflection to measure biomass (vegetation). Similar to NIR imagery, NDVI provides a higher level of detail than RGB images.

Each of these image types play an important role in the various applications for which drones are used.

Pre-Planning
The coverage area, vantage point, and speed a drone provides makes it a great tool for pre-season scouting. Using standard RGB imagery, the drone can produce 3D maps used for soil evaluations, topography reviews, and identification of drainage issues.

By gathering, reviewing, and evaluating this mapping data prior to planting, you only have a complete view of the whole area, but you may be able to identify problems and adjust planting strategy before, rather than during, the season.

In-Season Assessment
The primary advantage of drones over a manual scouting process is speed. An area normally monitored by a crop scout in several hours can be covered in a single, quick drone flight. This allows for one of the most common uses of drones in agriculture – ongoing monitoring of crop health throughout the season. NIR imagery is most valuable in this process for several reasons.

First, NIR images show heat so they can easily identify areas of plant and water stress. Their high level of detail offers additional applications such as weed detection, defining management zones, evaluating effectiveness of ponding and water management, and quantifying machinery-induced crop limiting factors. This ability to identify concerns and intervene quickly is directly linked to a better year-end harvest.

There are uses for RGB images in-season as well. They’re often used to identify planter skips and evaluate areas of lost production, allowing you to correct the problems.

Long-Term Analysis
In addition to their immediate help before and during the season, drone use can be beneficial over long periods of time. Like RGB and NIR, NDVI images can also show ponding, help assess crop vigor, and show changes in field conditions over time.

NDVI images measure the amount of biomass or “greenness” of a plant and create an index, which is then compared to areas of less vegetation and more vegetation. The numbers range from -1 to +1, with high amounts of biomass and green vegetation having increasingly positive numbers.

NDVI values are very sensitive to anything that affects light, such as haze, clouds, or even soil. For this reason, NDVI images are most effective in optimum conditions.

Bottom line: A drone is a helpful tool that can provide quality data and images but it’s up to you to analyze data and use it to make the best decisions for the crop and your farm.

Read the entire version of this article, recently featured in Progressive Forage Grower magazine.

To learn more about drones, contact the team at RDO Integrated Controls.

FAA Part 107 Test Info

Three things to know to prepare for your test RDO_Integrated_Controls

Author: RDO Integrated Controls

The Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) new small drone rule –known as Part 107 – went into effect on August 29. If you’re confused by what Part 107 means to you, we’ve provided three key components to help make sense of it:

Understand the process.
The FAA clearly describes what to expect if you are an existing FAA Pilot or if you are starting from scratch.

Free study materials online.
Sharpen those pencils! The FAA has a great online, free study material guide. You can also take the online course and even take a sample exam at the end.

Find your test Location
Don’t be in the dark when it comes to finding your nearest testing facility. Check out the official list of FAA testing locations.

One unique service that RDO Integrated Controls offers is an FAA Compliance Package. These customers have access to an FAA consulting team, which includes a personal Ground School instructor available to answer your questions and guide you through your preparation, as well as keep customers informed about changes and announcements from the FAA and Part 107 Compliance tips and tricks.

Full article shared from RDO Integrated Controls website. To learn more about the RDOIC FAA Compliance Package, or for any UAV-related questions, contact the RDOIC team.

Meet Agriculture’s Game-Changer

Drone technology brings new opportunities to agriculture RDO-drone

Author: RDO Equipment Co.

Not since the invention of the tractor has a technology come along with the potential to impact the agriculture landscape in a significant way. Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS), commonly known as drones, are changing the business of farming. Thanks to drone technology, farmers have access to more data and information than ever before, and are harnessing it into knowledge to find new, innovative ways of advancing day-to-day operations, such as:

• Improve resource efficiency, productivity, and profitability
• Maintain targeted use of water, fertilizers, and pesticides
• Monitor moisture content and nutrient levels
• Obtain real time analysis of soil health, plant health, weather patterns, and more
• Access fields anytime, anywhere, even within the comfort of their own homes

RDO Equipment Co. is committed to being a partner and resource, setting up our customers with both the cutting-edge technology they want and the support they need to advance their operations and impact the bottom line.

Learn more about the latest in drone technology by visiting RDO Integrated Controls.

Just Finalized: FAA Part 107 Rules for Flying Drones

What does this mean and what’s next? FAA-Part-107

Author: RDO Equipment Co.

On June 21, the FAA announced that Part 107 Rules for UAS (Drone) Operations in the National Airspace have been finalized.

The name of the operator’s certificate required is “Remote Pilot’s Certificate” and clients will need one to fly with Part 107 or their Exemption.

However, the new rules will not be implemented for 60 days, presumably in late August. Until then, you may consider the current operating rules unchanged, and use this window as a time to prepare.

Overall, this announcement has great benefits for the use of UAVs in agriculture, civil engineering, aggregate, and mining industries. Becoming compliant to fly commercial UAVs will be more accessible for many companies.

Here are the highlights from today’s announcements:

Getting the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for non-FAA Pilots

  • You may begin the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification training online.
  • You may take the Knowledge Exam at an FAA testing Center once the Rule is implemented.

Getting Part 107 Remote Pilot Certification for current FAA Pilots

  • You may begin the Part 61 additional Remote Pilot Certification training online.
  • You do not need to take a Knowledge Test at a testing center, but must complete the online training course .

Current 333 Exemption Holders

  • Your FAA Pilot must complete the online Remote Pilot Certification training online before the implementation of Part 107.
  • Your 333 Exemption is still valid per the time period stated on it.

Pending 333 Exemptions

  • You will be notified by the FAA that you are in one of three tiers and be given options to continue or transfer to Part 107

TSA Approval

  • You will be required to be approved and vetted by the TSA in order to fly with a Remote Pilot Certification.

What are the final rules?

  • The FAA has posted a summary and a complete overview of the final rules, which will be implemented later this summer.

Want to Learn More?
The experts at RDO Integrated Controls offer an FAA Compliance Package as part of Fleet Shield Services. This consulting service provides best practices, advice, and training on all topics covering compliance with the FAA, TSA, and local governments as they pertain to commercial drone flights. Contact RDO Integrated Controls to learn more.