Earlier this month Ed Boxall (COO, Sensorem) and I travelled down to Esperance, Western Australia to demonstrate drone technology to a group of local agronomists. Landing in Esperance in the big plane gave clear warning of what the little plane was to expect; the winds were howling making the landing very interesting to say the least! On terra firma Ed and I looked each other and said, "Well, this is the ultimate test (of the Trimble UX5)!" and we headed off.
Arriving at the farm the first words out of our contact's mouth were, "Is it gonna fly?". Looking around, the trees were being whipped, the dust billowing and the grass flattened. "This is typical Esperance, the boys don't think it's going to fly." Our contact was talking about the group of agronomists who were coming to see the demo. Ed calmly replied, "Mate, this is why we bought the UX5. If this can't handle the wind, then nothing else can." And with that we headed off for the demo.
At first launch the UX5 climbed high into the sky, circling over head to get it's bearings and then headed off to do it's thing, all while the wind was trying its best to knock it out of the sky. Needless to say, the boys were impressed, but we had only just begun. The UX5 went back and forth, back and forth, following the path that we had set, and seemingly straight as a die as it's auto-pilot system rapidly adjusted the elevons and motor speed to counter against the gusting wind. It was taking photo after photo of the paddock below in exactly the locations it needed too to map it entirely.
Ed Boxall launching the Trimble UX5
At the end of the flight, close to an hour later, the UX5 came in to land. The wind was still howling but that wasn't anything different to the rest of the flight, and the UX5 was coasting in. And then just as it was about to land, the wind gods had one last play and a massive gust of wind caught the UX5 and literally blew it vertical. The UX5, without missing a beat, powered the motor to full, tilted the elevons down and drove itself head-on into the wind. As soon the gust quit, the UX5 powered off, levelled and landed like it was a stork carrying a baby. If the boys weren't impressed before, they were definitely now. And so were we!
Our experience highlights how difficult it can be to image a farm with just any drone. It has to be the best, and the Trimble UX5 is certainly that. Extreme wind conditions are the norm in the Southern Coastal region of the West Australian wheat-belt, hence the local agronomists initial scepticism that had them ruling out using drones before even seeing them. But that is no longer considered an issue after what we were able to show them.
And it is not only in windy conditions that these drones excel. The norm with imagery taken with a manned aircraft or satellite is that if it is cloudy, then forget about it. That's because they are above the cloud and the cloud gets in the way of the camera. Drones fly below the cloud. And rain? Just a little bit is no problem, which is perfect for the showery conditions usually experienced in the West Australian wheat-belt. So really, conditions have to be pretty extreme to rule-out flying with a drone as capable as the UX5. This means that it is no longer a gamble to get imagery flown, it is a certainty.
I hope I have gone some way to convincing you of the advantages of using drone technology for agricultural purposes. How it handles the weather is just the start, what you get out of it is where things start to get really interesting. More on that to come...
Thanks for reading and let me know what you think by emailing me at firstname.lastname@example.org