The Precision Aerial Ag Show in Decatur, Ill., at the Farm Progress Show site recently unveiled interesting technology of the future. One eye-catcher was a large unmanned aerial vehicle – or UAV – that was displayed with spray tanks and booms with nozzles attached.
This one is offered by DPI UAV Systems based in Essington, Pa. It was a prototype which introduced farmers and visitors to using the concept of unmanned vehicles for more than taking pictures of crop fields or for other purposes.
Spokesmen for the company told show-goers that the UAV will eventually have a different style of boom than shown on the UAV now. It will also have larger spray tanks.
The idea is to send the unit airborne without anyone on board. It would be controlled form the ground and could be preprogrammed to fly a route.
Discussion during the show about this type of product, not this particular model or company, was both about the advantages and risks of such a system.
On the plus side, the unit could likely be more versatile for getting into tight spaces in odd-shaped fields than typical, manned aerial applicators. It would also allow someone to spray insecticides or any other chemical without being exposed to the chemical, except in loading the plane, where they could wear protective equipment as specified on the product label. They would not be in the field and breathing the chemical during the application process.
On the downside, currently no UAV is approved for commercial use by the Federal Aviation Administration. The FAA is in the process of developing unmanned aircraft system rules. There is a comment period now, and may be another one once a rule is proposed. It could be many months before a final rule allowing commercial application is available.
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The other risk is that having no one on board could actually present a problem – no one is aboard to handle issues, should something go wrong. Whether that is more of a perception than a real concern remains to be seen.