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Nanotechnology to boost drone capabilities and increase spray coverage

Meet the Network

A new aerial applicator for agrochemicals will extend the flight times for unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), allowing them to cover a greater crop area more cost-effectively and with greater precision.

CropAngel webNorfolk-based Crop Angel is at the forefront of UAV sprayer technology; it is now developing a new applicator with agrochemical manufacturer Agform to increase the capacity of its UAV fleet. Matthew Kealey, agronomist and director of Agform, owns Crop Angel alongside progressive farmer, Chris Eglington.

Limited flying time of UAVs poses a challenge for the industry; Kealey believes that they have the answer.

He explains: “At Agform we are using nanotechnology to develop new agrochemical formulations, improving the performance of active ingredients to strengthen potency of the spray. This would allow a greater area to be treated with the same volume of liquid.

“Crop Angel’s drones can currently fly for about 10 to 15 minutes, but with this new applicator we could increase capacity and lengthen flight time.”

The UAVs, equipped with a tank and nozzles, link to an iPad or tablet and use GPS navigation. Aerial mapping data of disease hotspots or weed infestations is integrated with the UAV control software, enabling the programming of a pre-planned course to target specific areas of a field.

“To use an example, drones are advantageous for fruit crops,” states Kealey. “When you apply liquids via tramlines, it often causes damage to the crop, and the use of ‘mist blowers’ in orchards is both expensive and time consuming. We can spray with precision, having less operator exposure and maintaining soil quality.”

Crop AngelCost-effective precision spraying

Kealey believes that farmers are embracing the technology; Crop Angel recently met with a large potato grower in Angus, who is excited by the benefits of the UAV sprayers.

The company are in a position to offer spraying drones for direct sale, but are waiting for final Civil Aviation Authority approval to allow drones to spray.

It is not only farmers who are attracted to the technology – there are benefits for estates and amenity areas such as golf courses. UAVs can navigate difficult terrain or avoid surface damage from tractors.

Invasive weeds on difficult ground

Kealey says: “Crop Angel recently received authorization to fly for a ‘bracken control’ project; bracken is an invasive weed, known to be a carcinogen and host to ticks. We will be working on estates in Scotland, using the UAVs sprayers to maintain heather and grouse moors.”

Crop Angel is well-positioned for the future, working across various sectors and remaining at the forefront as technology evolves. The development team is currently working on a number of innovative features, including improved spray delivery systems, powder applicators and pelleted small seed applicators, to economically benefit clients.

Seizing the systems integration opportunity – Lockheed Martin at REAP

Meet the Network

“We are talking to large growers and agricultural businesses to find out how we can work together,” says George Hooper, Business Development Manager at Lockheed Martin in the UK. He is scheduled to speak at the ‘Perspectives on Disruptive Technology’ session during Agri-Tech East’s REAP Conference on 9 November 2016.

George HooperLeading technologists from BT, Fujitsu and PA Consulting will also speak at the session, discussing radical new approaches to agriculture.

With the overarching theme of ‘Innovation for an Agricultural Revolution’, the conference will explore the current relationship between agriculture and technology, highlighting the potential for external innovation to be incorporated into the agri-food industry.

Most recognised for its background in global security and aerospace, Lockheed Martin is now establishing a presence in agriculture – part of its wider work in the manufacture and integration of advanced technology systems. George Hooper is responsible for this expansion; we spoke with him to find out more…

Expanding into Agri-Tech

Lockheed Martin is using data analytics expertise, Unmanned Air Vehicle (UAV) product range and their experience in systems integration to build an offering in agriculture. Hooper explains: “We are talking with agricultural businesses to find out what could be of interest and to set up a commercial model, and we are also looking for partners. At this present time, we are in a development phase and looking to launch something in 2017. At REAP, I will be discussing how we came into agribusiness, where I think our capabilities can help, and where future development is going to be of interest.”

Research and Development

The company is considering several applications for agriculture. This includes ‘LiDAR’, a surveying technology that measures distance with a laser light, and is commonly used by the Environment Agency and others to make high-resolution maps, with applications in water catchment. Hooper says: “One of the strands of our work is to look at what sensors we currently have, and how they can be applied to agriculture. Some of the areas we have looked also include ground penetrating radar, which could be used for root surveys and multi-spectral cameras, which could be used to monitor parasite infestations and moisture content.

Lockheed Martin is selling the ‘Indago’ UAV in the UK, which is used for both defence and commercial applications. Indago can be used to scout crops and conduct 3D terrain mapping. Alongside use of the high definition camera, one distributor is also utilising infrared, which creates interesting possibilities: “We are undertaking further sensor development, so that other types of sensors can be carried on UAVs of that size. Weight is a primary problem, but I don’t think that is going to be a long-term issue. The issue is always going to be about gathering huge amounts of data and making it useful to a farmer on the ground. We also need to think about the commercial models behind that.”

Systems Integration

Hooper sees a role for Lockheed Martin as a systems integrator. He explains: “Farmers often have multiple streams of data being gathered by machinery and the challenges of being able to integrate the data from these different systems is significant. “In addition to building Lockheed Martin’s presence in agriculture, I have 20 years of experience with an international post and parcels portfolio.

“Why this is relevant is that it is our software that is behind all of Royal Mail’s letter sorting machines around the country and we are able to integrate with all the makes of sorting machines. We believe our expertise in systems integration will be very useful as we look at the agricultural market.”

Lockheed MartinREAP 2016 logo