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Drones: What Are They Good For?


While many in the business of satellite-based remote sensing would like you to believe the answer to that question is “not much,” GEOSYS has the benefit of nearly 30 year of experience in the industry – and confidence in its own abilities – to take a more objective look at the technology.

First, let’s be clear – this is not NEW technology. It has gotten much better, but it’s not new. In fact, GEOSYS dipped its toe in the drone business 15 years ago. There are a number of reasons we didn’t invest further in the technology but the main reason was it didn’t (and still doesn’t) meet the needs of crop monitoring – and that is the core of our business.

To meet the needs of crop monitoring on a level that delivers value to the grower, the technology must be easily scalable, compatible and georeferenced. Additionally, to provide true field monitoring, the technology must be able to capture data from the entire field on a daily basis. It would take approximately 70,000 people operating drones daily to capture the surface area that GEOSYS covers with its satellites just in the USA alone. Not to mention how much time would have to be spent stitching together the images to get the complete field – and the fact that the data would probably not allow comparison with other fields or previous maps.

But, just because drones are not a suitable technology for crop monitoring doesn’t mean there isn’t potential to add value to agribusiness. There are already some great examples of the potential drones have:

  • In Japan, drones have been used for input applications in remote sections of the rice fields that would be hard – if not impossible – to reach with traditional equipment. The Japan Times estimated approximately 2,500 drones for agricultural use are currently in operation;
  • Penn had an very interesting TED talk about using mini drones to swarm fields to reconstruct and analyze every plant and piece of fruit in an orchard, providing vital information to farmers that can help improve yields and make water management smarter.

The beauty of not being a start-up company trying to raise funds is we don’t have to convince investors that we are the best investment, or that we are the silver bullet for ag technology. We get to focus on delivering value to agribusiness.

We know our strength and capabilities – we are exceptional at processing high volumes of imagery from satellites and managing big data with on-demand access. We know there are opportunities to expand and we are always looking for strategic partners who can work with us to deliver on our mission of growing agriculture. For example, GEOSYS is particularly interested in the use of drones for scouting applications as that could add value to crop monitoring in a way that satellites technology cannot. We are also interested in the use of drones for plot trials and phenotyping.

So, what are drones good for?

GEOSYS isn’t here to throw stones at the developers of this technology. Rather, we eagerly wait to see what the next wave of the technology will bring and how they will find new ways to meet the needs of agribusiness.

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