Drones are not just being used in warfare. Increasingly, remotely controlled aircraft are being adopted for commercial use: for Amazon to deliver customer packages, for enthusiasts to take breathtaking aerial footage, for film and TV producers to use on their location sets.
The latest to join the club are farmers, who use the machines to survey their crops and help maintain them better.
Agribotix, a startup that specializes in developing drone technology for agriculture, explains on their website that drones can snap images and maps of farmers’ fields, allowing them to observe the health of their crops, identify weeds and pests, and predict yields.
Sensefly, the drone-making company, boasts that the gadgets can produce clear photos, even when there is cloud cover, making it more desirable than the satellite imaging many farmers currently use to assess crop health.
Some drones can even collect soil samples, or dig up plants so that farmers can easily inspect them for fertility and any signs of disease.
The machines can also help farmers determine which of his fields need watering—essentially cutting down the time they need to spend canvassing their crops in person.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) currently bans the use of drones for commercial purposes, unless the company applies for an exemption, proving that its operations are safe and that it will take measures to avoid bumping into other aircraft.
The “pilot” operating the drone must have an FAA Private Pilot certificate and the drone must remain within the pilot’s line of sight at all times, according to FAA rules.
The FAA first approved the use of drones for an agriculture company in January. Since then, a number of other farms have followed suit, with the help of Agribotix.
An Associated Press poll conducted last December found that 33 percent of Americans opposed using drones to monitor or spray crops, citing concerns about safety.
Meanwhile, 27 percent favored using drones for aerial photography. Most were opposed because they were worried about the cameras violating people’s privacy.