Outfield’s first drone was hand built on my dining room table. It had a 10 minute flight time and carried a fixed 12 megapixel Canon point-and-shoot camera pointing directly downwards. We affectionately named it “Droney McDroneface”. The first time I tried to use it to survey a farm, it had a ‘brownout’ and crashed to the ground from 50 metres in the air.
Fast forward five years to today, and drone technology has fully matured. Modern drones will fly for 30 minutes or more on a single battery, carry a high resolution camera, automatically avoid any obstacles they encounter, and then fold neatly away into a suitcase – all for less than £2500 (€3000, $3300).
This development has democratised access to drone technology for users in all sorts of industries, but most especially farmers. It means data can be gathered at a field and farm scale; quickly, simply and affordably, without having to solder your own flight controller or learn what the term brownout means! Reliable drone surveys can generate effective insights into a crop’s performance, with the goal of allowing growers and agronomists to streamline their operations.
The Outfield platform takes a simple camera drone and gives it the ability to measure a whole range of tree parameters across an orchard, making it the Swiss army knife of fruit crop monitoring. High resolution cameras combined with the speed and precision of a drone means farmers can have detailed maps of an orchard on demand – showing tree size, blossom loading, fruit set and more.
However, drone technology is not standing still. At Outfield we are already looking at ‘drone in a box’ solutions; where a drone sits in a ‘hive’ until it deploys and flies itself automatically, before returning home and uploading data – multiple times a day. Advances are also being made in drone spraying, where a large drone can carry up to 30 litres of chemical to any point in an orchard or field and deposit it with centimetre precision. And with systems such as the Boston Dynamics Spot robot, we are also seeing ground based systems start to catch up to their flying cousins (after all, a drone is simply a flying robot).
We still have Droney McDroneface as a reminder of how far drone technology has come. Although it has been repeatedly cannibalised for parts and will probably never fly again, I just can’t bring myself to throw it away. It’s a great reminder that technology never stands still, and neither can we.