Drone popularity continues to climb
DECATUR — Evolving regulations have those wanting to use drones for a variety of purposes wondering what they are allowed to do.
The Midwest Drone Show held this week at the Decatur Conference Center and Hotel was intended to answer questions about how drones can be used in agriculture and other industries. The conference was an extension of the Precision Aerial Ag Show, which was held at Progress City USA in July 2014.
As individuals and companies increasingly look to use drones, an inspector with the Federal Aviation Administration, or FAA, said compliance with regulations is critical in maintaining the safety of all involved.
“Most of us do want to comply with the rules,” the FAA’s Mark Foisy said. “Inspectors try to use education first. Education is our biggest challenge.”
Companies interested in using unmanned aerial vehicle, or UAV, systems want to get the most information and benefit from the technology as possible.
In agriculture, imagery can be used in every stage of the crop production cycle, said Ramanathan Sugumaran, a data scientist with John Deere.
“We’re at the very early stages,” Sugumaran said. “It’s no longer just a hobby to fly a drone.”
Farmers need timely information and data to make decisions, which Sugumaran said drones can provide. Challenges continue to be addressed to process the data and provide information in a timely manner, Sugumaran said.
Drones are being used to investigate damage to crops and more efficiently see what fields look like, said Kevin Boeckenstedt, a claims tech support lead with ADM Crop Risk Services.
“All this translates into instant time savings,” Boeckenstedt said. “Time is money.”
A view of an entire field can validate what growers might already suspect, Boeckenstedt said. ADM Crop Risk Services has been approved to use the technology since April 2015, making last year the first growing season the company used it.
Boeckenstedt sees more coming from using it in the years ahead as more information will be available throughout the growing cycle.
“We’re going to try to double our efforts,” Boeckenstedt said. “We’re trying to find what we can do to see value.”
The technology is developing so farmers can use the information to make the best management decisions possible, particularly for the soil, said Bill McDonnell a certified services agent with Pioneer Encirca Services.
“We can show we’re taking care of the environment and be good stewards of the land,” McDonnell said. “It’s a great tool to have available.”
Agriculture isn’t the only industry drones are being used. Utility companies are also interested in the technology.
Drones can be used to inspect power lines, said Sean VanSlyke, CEO and general manager of SEMO Electric Cooperative in southeast Missouri.
“If I can help them be more efficient and safer, your power can come on quicker,” VanSlyke said. “We’re trying to learn like everyone else. I can look around corner I haven’t been able to see before.”
VanSlyke said the company is exploring ways to be able to implement the use of drones and comply with the rules that are in place or will be in the future.
A lot of risk is involved with flying drones, so it is necessary for anyone operating the systems to know and follow all the rules and regulations involved, said Chad Colby, a UAV expert from the Bloomington area.
“It’s too easy with this technology to push the boundary,” Colby said.
A third classification of national airspace users has been defined to include modelers, Foisy said. The first two are public and civil operators, he said.
The agency has granted more than 4,000 exemptions to be able to fly unmanned aircraft, Foisy said. As the airspace gets more use, Foisy said the FAA’s duty continues to be in maintaining safety.
He encouraged those interested in flying to determine their purpose and seek information to ensure their compliance with the rules that are in effect. More information on the various regulations related to unmanned aerial vehicles is available at www.faa.gov/uas/.
Using drones away from crowds of people is one of the safety measures Foisy said the FAA is emphasizing to operators.
While inspectors prefer to educate users, Foisy said they can enforce the rules with more strong arm tactics as necessary.