Forward Robotics' U7AG: a drone to spray large Canadian farms

After identifying a need for aerial spraying services on large farms, an Ontario-based start-up has developed a fully-automated unmanned aerial vehicle for the Canadian market.

“Typically most drones you see out there for aerial spraying are fairly small capacity… and for North American farms…it’s just not going to cut it,” says Meng Wei, CEO and co-founder of Forward Robotics. “And we designed this aircraft to be able to perform the aerial spraying services or applications to people who have really large farms.”

The U7AG’s fixed-wing sprays at 120km/h, with a 23′ (7m) boom, resulting in a rate of 150 acres per hour, at two gallons per acre.

“We are designing this to be able to do 100 acres an hour at 4 gallons an acre,” says Wei. “We can also do 150 acres at 2 gallons an acre, or 50 acres an hour at 10 gallons an acre. And the key here is that the aircraft has a fixed tank, but we also have very rapid, automated refills.”

There are a couple of ways to tackle higher acre farms, says Wei, including putting a large tank on the aircraft.

“We are approaching it from the other angle where we’re trying to combine a very high flight speed – a very high spray speed – with a very fast re-fill time, and once you put everything through the same equation, the two combined give you a overall productivity that is not achievable by just maximizing one or the other.”

After an operator initially sets up the boundaries of the farm and its obstacles, the U7AG  runs a fully automatic process. When it runs out, it automatically lands at the re-fill station, fills, and resumes spraying.

Also available on-board, are RGB and NDVI sensors. Combined with centimetre-grade GPS, operators can perform their own crop scouting as well.

According to Wei, there is a little more work to do, but when it comes to commercialization, the company hopes to have everything ready for 2020.

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