Interest is growing rapidly in the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for precision agricultural and environmental uses.
Media reports show agriculture could potentially be the largest user of this developing technology.
Most of the practical applications of UAVs so far have occurred in Europe and in countries like Canada, Australia and Japan where there are fewer airspace regulations compared to United States.
Use of UAVs for commercial purposes is prohibited in the United States; only hobbyists are allowed to fly small, radio-controlled airplanes for recreational purposes.
Currently, there are two broad platforms for UAVs, namely the ‘Fixed Wing’ and ‘Rotary Wing’ (copter) types.
Fixed wing UAVs have the advantage of being able to fly at high speeds for long durations with simpler aerodynamic features. Some of them do not even require a runway or launcher for takeoff and landing.
The rotary wing UAVs have the advantage of being able to take off and land vertically and hover over a target. However, because of mechanical complexity and shortened battery power, they have a short flight range.
These UAVs fly up to an altitude of 400 feet and are able to follow the same path or GPS-guided routes daily, weekly or as desired.
Cameras gather images with normal light, infrared or thermal, still photos or video formats. These images are digitized, geo-referenced and mapped.