Precision ag applications on the verge of exploding.
For the precision agriculture segment of the unmanned aerial systems (UAS) industry, the state of Oklahoma is on its way to becoming known as the Silicon Valley for this specialized industry.
“Companies like to go where innovation is taking place and we have excelled with a lot of innovators early on,” says James Grimsley, the associate vice president for research at the University of Oklahoma. He is also the owner of Design Intelligence Incorporated (DII) LLC, which is a developer of UAS, and which is testing ag-related applications.
“The forecast is $83 billion and 103,000 jobs created in our industry alone over a 10-year period once we have the ability to fly [commercially],” says Brian Wynne, president and CEO, Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. (AUVSI). “We think 80 percent of the growth will occur in the agriculture sector. There are a lot of ways farmers can utilize these technologies, and in some instances, things are already being done.”
Oklahoma’s cluster of precision agriculture UAS firms is providing solutions to flying safer with innovative product developments thanks to the state’s history in both the aviation sector and the agriculture sector.
“One of the unique attributes of Oklahoma’s UAS initiative is that it is a cooperative endeavor between academia, industry and state government that has resulted in a number of cooperative arrangements,” writes Dr. Jamey Jacob, Oklahoma State University, Booker Professor, School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, in an email correspondence. He is also the president of the Unmanned Systems Alliance of Oklahoma.
“Probably the largest of these is spearheaded by Dr. [Stephen] McKeever himself through the office of the [Oklahoma] Secretary of Science and Technology, by which the governor’s UAS Council is able to advise and develop strategic initiatives at the state level for UAS initiatives,” he continues. “Another would be our research at Oklahoma State University in developing UAS technologies for weather, and the research at the University of Oklahoma in meteorology, and NOAA’s National Severe Storms Laboratory, which is the end user.”
Jacob notes there is a great deal of activity occurring with UAS in Oklahoma, but in short, the efforts are focused on developing and promoting larger use of UAVs in agriculture through technologies that provide more reliability and independence of the platform of the operator.
Grimsley’s company is among those in Oklahoma demonstrating UAS applications in the agriculture sector. His firm is testing its unmanned systems at a 3,500-acre farm, which he refers to as a living laboratory, with diverse ag-related activities underway. The farm is owned by an investor in DII.
DII will unveil a new solar-powered UAS this summer, which will be a lower cost alternative to the company’s Eturnas product. “It will be much better suited for precision ag and reaching into other markets that might not have been possible with the original Eturnas,” Grimsley notes.
Grimsley says the industry has begun to really take shape over the last two years, with the investment community embracing the enormity of the market and the applications. The overall cost savings will be huge, he says. “The worldwide agriculture market is around $6 trillion. It is an industry in need of innovation, and we have a lot of challenges moving forward in agriculture. The population is increasing and the amount of available farmland is not increasing. We are starting to encroach on agricultural lands due to urban sprawl.”