The day when unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used for spraying fields in North America could be here sooner than we expect. In fact, for small acres, that day may have already arrived.
Several spraying units made by a Swift Current-based RotorSpray attracted plenty of attention at Farm Forum in Saskatoon earlier this month.
The UAVs were built and designed by Monty Allan, an entrepreneur with farm roots in southwest Saskatchewan. Through his company Chaos Choppers, Allan has been providing UAVs to RCMP and law enforcement agencies for surveillance and aerial photography. As part of the interview posted above, he says RotorSpray was formed after seeing the opportunities for UAVs in spraying.
While UAVs are already used in Japan for spraying small fields, RotorSpray’s current technology is well-suited for controlling mosquito populations and spot-spraying weeds in areas on North American farms that are inaccessible for large field sprayers, explains Allan.
“Maybe your field V’s out and you can’t get your sprayer in there, it works pretty good for that, as well as hollows that are too wet to get into,” he says. “This year we had some issues with Canada thistle. (The patches) were really not very big, so it’s not worth spraying the whole field. This can go in and do it in a few seconds.”
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The largest unit currently made by RotorSpray has a 12 litre tank. The area it can cover with one load depends on concentration, application rates and battery life, but he uses 6,000 square metres (just under 1.5 acres) as a rough estimate when asked.
Proper certification and training are required to fly the unmanned sprayers. While the current models are GPS-aided, Allan notes they’re working with auto-pilot companies to completely remove the pilot from the in-air process.
“So what we’ll do is upload its flight plan and send it on its way. It will figure out everything on its own and come back and land. You will really just change the battery and put more product in it,” he explains.
Further to that, he says docking technology that would allow for automated refilling could be developed: “That’s maybe further down the road, but stuff like that that’s automated is no big deal any more. I think it would be easier figuring that out than trying to get these things to fly autonomously.”
RotorSpray sells the units for around $7,500, which Allan notes is comparable to the price of an ATV (and a fraction of the cost of a high-clearance sprayer.)
The concept of swarms of UAVs working together is starting to be used in other applications, and he says it’s coming to Canadian farms.
“I think it’s closer than we think. Even with the old camera technology that’s been out for a while, people are starting to integrate that type of thing, getting more going doing the same job,” says Allan. “That’s the ultimate scenario for these.”