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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.

Drones offer helicopter view of field trials

Meet the Network

HexCam aerial photography, based in Norwich, Norfolk provides unique aerial photography solutions and has seen growing demand from farmers and breeders for visualising field trials.

Elliott Corke says​: “With our radio-controlled multirotor aircraft we can access areas that traditional photography just can’t reach. We can work safely anywhere from floor level to 120 metres altitude using our GPS assisted hexacopter or octocopter UAVs.

“Our hexacopter (official title: G-UAV0054) was built in Ireland and finished in Norwich. She contains some of the most up-to-date radio-controlled multirotor UAV technology, including autohover, GPS and failsafe return to base. Our octocopter, G-UAV0055 uses the same flight controller but can carry a higher quality camera.

​”We have added some cutting edge imaging hardware to give us excellent HD video, still images and, soon, 3D imaging. Despite the small size we do not compromise on image quality. Both our multirotors can record continuously whilst on an operation to allow us to provide you with either unedited footage and stills or, for an additional fee, edited video”

This is an evolving technology area and Elliott is keen to talk to all parties in the industry to understand the requirements.

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