The Yield Defender unmanned aerial system is on display at the National Agricultural Aviation Association Convention trade show this week. The drone system is the flagship aircraft of Hangar 78 UAV, which was acquired by Air Tractor, Inc. earlier this year. According to Wes Hall, Vice President of UAS Technologies, Yield Defender is specifically engineered to serve the agriculture industry as a complete, turnkey system for field scouting and precision agriculture crop analysis. Manufacturing, research and development is headquartered in Olney, Texas.
The Yield Defender unmanned aerial system includes Mission Planner PC software, High Endurance quad multi-rotor ag drone, professional-grade onboard sensors, and CropVue imaging processing software. “Yield Defender produces data to do farming jobs more effectively and efficiently—from monitoring crop health and yields to field scouting, drought assessment and field surveying. It provides immediate, on-the-spot insights on the condition of crops and fields so farmers can address issues quickly,” says Hall.
Using Yield Defender Flight Management Software, operators can program fully-autonomous missions, from takeoff to landing. Once in flight, the Yield Defender HE ag drone has battery capacity to cover as many as 100 acres. Three batteries come with the system. An advanced near infrared (NIR) camera acquires high-resolution images to produce normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) imagery. After processing with CropVue image processing software, the geo-tagged NDVI images can be uploaded into commonly available GPS software to produce prescription maps that can be transferred to variable rate aerial application aircraft for the application of crop nutrients and protection products.
As UAS capabilities mature and are integrated into the industry, Air Tractor President Jim Hirsch sees the company’s integration of drones into its product line as a way to provide the latest technology to ag producers. “Some ag pilots are concerned about sharing their airspace with drones—and rightly so,” says Hirsch. “Air Tractor is keenly aware of these concerns and supports best practices and safety initiatives by the National Agricultural Aviation Association, the Federal Aviation Administration, and the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Ag pilot safety will always come first with Air Tractor and Yield Defender.”
Will there be a day when drones replace manned aerial application aircraft? “That day is far, far in the future,” asserts Hirsch. “There is a huge economic barrier for bringing to market remotely controlled, large payload ag aircraft. As an example, we can all see how self-driving cars are still a long way from being perfected. What’s more, the FAA has not even begun to develop a certification framework for unmanned aerial spray planes, and likely won’t for the next ten to twenty years.”
Rather than being competitors, Wes Hall sees agricultural drones as an additional service that aerial applicators can provide to farmers. “The numbers of drones working in agriculture are expected to increase exponentially in the next few years. Our goal is to work with farmers and aerial application operators for a successful, mutually beneficial integration of the two.”
For more information about Yield Defender drones, visit yielddefender.com