Advances in unmanned aircraft systems combined with next generation sensors will contribute to the challenge of feeding our future world in a sustainable manner, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln engineer says.However, while unmanned aircraft systems will have quite an impact in agriculture's future, it currently is illegal to operate one of these drones for commercial or business use, said Wayne Woldt, engineer in Biological Systems Engineering.
Farmers and crop scouts may find using unmanned aircraft outfitted with advanced imaging sensors helpful in locating problem areas in fields, such as weeds, water stress, insect stress and crop stress, and in fact, it is expected agriculture will account for an 80 percent share of the emerging unmanned aircraft market, Woldt said.
"The view you can get of a field or livestock operation is unparalleled, without the cost of going up in an airplane. The view is very helpful in understanding your production system," Woldt said.
But the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources engineer cautions it is currently illegal to operate an unmanned aircraft for commercial or business use, which would include agriculture.
The small drones can be flown for hobby use, which is defined very narrowly. If an unmanned aircraft is flown for hobby, or private use, the individual needs to be very careful for aircraft such as agricultural spray pilots, pipeline inspectors, photographers, and other aircraft that are flying low for a specific reason.
A collision of an unmanned aircraft with an airplane could be very expensive, and perhaps even deadly.
The FAA is working on regulations for small, unmanned aircraft that are 55 pounds or less. These regulations should be drafted this fall, and will lay the groundwork for business and commercial use of unmanned aircraft, including use in agriculture.
"The FAA takes great pride in the safety of the air space over the U.S., with it being one of the safest in the word," Woldt said. "The FAA is looking to make it legal to fly these unmanned aircraft for farming purposes. So stay tuned, and commercial use of unmanned aircraft will soon be incorporated into the national air space."
Until then, it is important that these unmanned aircraft remain grounded, and not used for business or commercial purposes.
If they are used, one must have an FAA issued certificate of authorization, which is only available to aircraft owned by the state, for research, and other civil aviation purposes such as emergency response.
Woldt is just getting his NU-AIRE research and education program underway at IANR, with additional information at http://nuaire.unl.edu.