08 Jun Is that a Robot in your Cornfield?

Anyone want to guess what the first commercial U.S. unmanned aerial system (UAS) mission will be? According to a March 2013 AUVSI report, it’s going to be precision agriculture.

Yes, robot sky farmers will be everywhere once the FAA can find a way to fly UAS’s safely and ethically in national airspace. The Japanese are a great example of what will happen when we allow the integration of commercial UAS’s into airspace. In the last 20 years, the Japanese went from having 100 unmanned commercial UAS in 1990 to more than 2,000 today. Their unmanned dusters can fly both lower and slower than manned aircraft, so they use less insecticide and spray it more precisely. That’s a game changer. Check out these Yamaha RMAX videos for a demonstration: http://rmax.yamaha-motor.com.au/videos

At Mississippi State University, we believe we can do even better. By linking unmanned dusters with unmanned crop sensors, farmers can just spray the individual plants that need it, versus the entire crop field. MSU is a pioneer in “hyperspectral sensors”, which quickly spot the crops needing water, fertilizer or insecticide and then dispatch an unmanned duster on its plant specific spray mission. To catch a glimpse of Canada’s “Precision Hawk” unmanned crop sensor in action, visit this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4J0Rf-LFvYY.

Mississippi has the technology, the land, and the resources that create the perfect location to test precision agriculture UAS. As a UAS test site, we offer some of the nation’s best farmland, and one of the best UAS research and agricultural universities (Mississippi State University) in the country. Our test site has thousands of acres of secluded land, maritime and riverine territory all managed by the Mississippi National Guard who have more than 10,000 hours of UAS flight time without a single accident.

Oh, and make a mental note those previously mentioned Japanese unmanned dusters and Canadian unmanned crop sensors were made possible when those countries opened their airspace to commercial UAS years ago. It’s 2013, and every day we wait here in the U.S. is another day the American commercial UAS industry falls behind. Let’s get moving.

Maj Gen James Poss, USAF (ret)
Director of Strategic Initiatives
High Performance Computing Collaboratory, Mississippi State University