The Top 7 Drone Visionaries in 7 Commercial Markets – Precision Agriculture

Going all the way back to the infamous Economic Impact Report created by AUVSI in 2013, it’s fair to say there’s been lots of talk about the impact drones could enable in precision agriculture. While experts have detailed how and why other markets will actually be bigger, there’s no denying the impact the technology could make on the farm or the numerous ways drones are set to revolutionize agriculture.

To highlight some of the people who are working to make this revolution possible, we’ve put together a list of 7 drone visionaries who are using or working with drones in agriculture along with a bonus visionary whose interest goes beyond this specific application of the technology. Of course, all of the people on this list have worked in and are focused on a variety of industries and markets, which is just part of the reason that this list should simply be the starting place for anyone intent on discovering all of the people that are making a difference with UAVs in agriculture. If you’d like to learn more about these visionaries, you can discover the sort of insights some of these folks and plenty more will be looking to share at upcoming industry events.

To see all of the visionaries in our 7 commercial drone markets, click here

 

Chad Colby

Who is he?

Chad is the founder and principal of Colby AgTech, where he works with progressive farmers, leading companies and government agencies to provide a deeper understanding of new technology and recommendations on its practical applications. He has provided information and demonstrations at a majority of U.S. agribusiness company and organization meetings and also presented at hundreds of conferences and events.

How is he making an impact?

Chad has become well known for his industry-leading work as an advocate for commercial unmanned aerial system use in agriculture. As Ag Technology Contributor to This Week in AgriBusiness, Chad presents a wide range of technology, from innovative techniques ag businesses are utilizing (such as drones) to applications that can be applied to individual farmer’s operations. He’s also laid out in plain detail how to put drones to work on the farm and has shared his insight with various publications.

He’s worked hard to help growers understand that drones are just another tool for farmers to utilize when necessary, but that they also now have the opportunity to fully explore and leverage the data gathered by a drone in a way they never have before. He’s focused on quantifying the value proposition drones can provide for a specific operation or project to make sure the technology has a positive bottom-line impact on the farm.

What’s on the horizon?

Chad wants to continue to help farmers across the world figure out how they can leverage drone technology.

“I’ve always been eager to purchase the latest and greatest technology, finding the benefit, and share my opinion with others,” he said. “It’s fun to educate people with practical applications that are useful for today and in the future.”

 

Jeff Lorton

Who is he?

Jeff Lorton is the founder and creative director at Duke Joseph Agency, project manager for Oregon UAS FutureFarm project, and Executive Producer of FutureFarm Expo. He has a passion for telling stories about technology, agriculture, and the era of robotics.

How is he making an impact?

After founding Duke Joseph Agency in 2010, Lorton launched the annual Precision Farming Expo, now called FutureFarm, a two-day gathering of local, national and international digital agriculture thought leaders, researchers and innovators. The 2017 Expo covered topics such as Ground Sensors, Crop Imagery, Data Use, Precision Irrigation, Robotics, Automation, Soil Science and more.

Together with Young Kim, Lorton created the Oregon UAS FutureFarm, a “real-world proving ground where Digital Agriculture Pioneers seek to develop the next generation of advanced agriculture innovations and is the only remote sensing-focused digital agriculture proving ground in the US”.

What’s on the horizon?
The Oregon UAS FutureFarm is the real-world proving ground where Digital Agriculture Pioneers seek to develop the next generation of advanced agriculture innovation. By providing technology professionals with a place to directly hear from local growers, new approaches around how drones can be integrated into the farm can be developed and customized in an especially meaningful way.

 

Matthew Johnson

Who is he?

Matthew Johnson is the CEO and President of M3 Aerial Productions Inc., and Instructor at Brandon University for UAV (RPAS) Ground School. His company provides training for commercial RPAS operators, and aerial data and diagnostics services using drones equipped with remote sensors for precision agriculture, energy (wind turbine and hydro-electric infrastructure inspections), construction, mining and surveying, forestry and conservation, and marketing.

How is he making an impact?

In late 2016, M3 Aerial Productions launched a Ground School training program and has since trained almost 400 commercial RPAS pilots. The company also partnered with Brandon University, located in about two hours west of Winnipeg, to include their Ground School course in the University’s geography program.

Matthew is working to enable producers with the tools, knowledge and skills to gather crop health, elevation, and other aerial data. These efforts are built around a business model directed at training and educating the drone user, to help them better understand the regulations, safety considerations, and capabilities of RPAS.  

What’s on the horizon?

Apart from expanding and improving his company’s services and seeking out new partnerships, Matthew has a goal of training 1,000 people worldwide in 2018.  M3 Aerial is in discussions with five other universities and colleges across Canada to offer a similar training program as Brandon University, and is partnering on a pilot program with a school division in Manitoba to introduce “drones” to the classroom. Industry-specific training courses are being introduced in 2018 through their training sub-brand “Drone Training Zone” for law enforcement, agriculture, and conservation.

 

Norm Lamothe

Who is he?

Norm Lamothe is the Co-founder and Head of UAS in Agriculture at Deveron UAS, a full-service enterprise drone data company based in Canada. Their team of professionals use UAVs, sensors and software to collect and analyze intricate data for farmers to make informed decisions, reduce costs and increase their yields. The company has a network of employee pilots spanning Canada and the Midwest of the United States to provide farmers with options around how they want to adopt and utilize drone technology.

How is he making an impact?

In May 2018, Deveron completed integration with the John Deere Operations Center, enabling users Operations Center users direct access to Deveron’s drone data order management platform, SOAR. Deveron was also awarded a national special flight operations certificate (SFOC) for operations of its rotary-wing unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) systems. This means the company can operate nine additional makes and models in its expanding UAV fleet. Additionally, Deveron has partnered with the Climate Corporation in order to deliver on-demand aerial imagery data to farmers for enhanced crop analysis, which is an essential element in the digital agriculture ecosystem that Norm is focused on enabling.

He’s worked to help farmers understand that gathering data is easy, but gathering good data in order to make meaningful and timely decisions is difficult. It’s why he’s focused on helping farmers use drone technology to either decrease costs or increase yields. In either case, a grower’s bottom line is ultimately improved, and those bottom-line realities are where it makes sense for most farmers to look at drone adoption.

What’s on the horizon?

Whether it’s simple scouting or doing physical tasks like spraying a field, drones can represent an increase in efficiency and effectiveness that could inherently change the way farmers approach a given task. Thanks to new developments though, those efficiencies could soon be taken to another level.

There will be additional opportunities at making discoveries using new sensors as they become more cost effective such as thermal, hyperspectral and gathering data in a more efficient manner through the use of sophisticated equipment that can go beyond line of sight,” Norm said.

 

Robert Blair

Who is he?

Robert Blair is an agriculture tech and drone consultant, and a fourth generation farmer from Kendrick Idaho, who owns the Blair Three Canyon Farms. His journey with precision agriculture started in 2003 using a PDA for simple mapping. That evolved into all different types of equipment, including Unmanned Air Systems (UAS) in 2006. His vision and advocacy of these technologies helped him become the Precision Ag Institute’s 2009 International Farmer of the Year.

How is he making an impact?

Robert is a domestic and global leader with UAV use in agriculture. During his travels, he has given presentations on the applications UAVs provide in agriculture. He’s made efforts to get the public to realize their priority should be to keep farmers on the farm. Sustainability all comes down to the question of whether they’re willing to pay for it, and it’s an issue he works to get the public to understand.

He is focused on helping farmers discover how they use new technology like drones to maximize the on-the-ground expertise in agriculture. It’s an issue he is trying to make a priority because of the labor that’s not going to be available, and because of the amount of food that he knows will need to be produced to feed nine and half billion people by 2050.

What’s on the horizon?

On a list of the 10 most endangered jobs in the United States, farmers ranked 2nd with around a 20% attrition rate. It means out of two million farmers in America, approximately 400,000 of them will be lost, which represents nearly a quarter of this our industry. It’s part of the reason he sees drones playing such a big role in the future of the agriculture.

“For every one kid going into an agriculture field at a higher institute of study, there are four jobs waiting,” Robert mentioned in an interview. “How are we going to replace the current workforce expertise? We’re replacing it with hardware and software experts. We can positively affect yield by minimizing the effect of droughts and lowering our costs through better management by using tools like drones.”

 

Wahid Nawabi

Who is he?

Wahid Nawabi is the President & CEO at AeroVironment Inc, a company that designs, develops, produces, and supports a portfolio of unmanned aircraft and data analytics systems supplied to organizations. Their commercial drone ecosystem is designed to take actionable field intelligence to the next level.

How is he making an impact?

Although AeroVironment is well-known as a critical supplier of drone systems to the U.S. Department of Defense and 45 international customers, the company also manufactures drones for other industries. Earlier this year, AeroVironment began selling its Quantix drone and a one-year subscription to the AeroVironment Decision Support System for $16,500, specifically designed for agriculture. With the single push of a button, the drone performs the whole mission automatically from takeoff to landing. AV DSS automatically stores and processes images collected by Quantix into high-resolution aerial maps, and features intuitive tool sets for deeper image analysis to help guide decision making and improve operational efficiencies. Wahid was on hand to showcase the product when it first debuted.

Earlier this year, AeroVironment formed a joint venture with Japanese telecommunications firm SoftBank Corp to develop solar-powered HALE unmanned aircraft for commercial operations. In July 2018, AeroVironment announced that NASA-JPL teamed up with AeroVironment to build a drone helicopter for the Mars Exploration Program. It’s all part of AeroVironment’s focus on solutions based on robotics, sensors, software analytics, and connectivity to serve large global markets consisting of defense, telecommunications, and commercial information solutions.

What’s on the horizon?

Wahid has talked about the feedback they’ve gotten from their customers telling them they want to focus on running their businesses, not on becoming drone experts. It’s the reason the Quantix system is designed to be so simple to use, and why Wahid is pushing to see this concept further refined and streamlined.

“What we’ve done is we’ve taken drones and software analytics and turned it into an app,” Wahid said during a recent television appearance. “If you can turn on a tablet, push go, the drone and the software does all the rest. It’s fully automatic: take off vertically and transition to horizontal flight, come back and land on its own while you’re having a cup of coffee.”

 

Young Kim

Who is he?

Young Kim is the CEO of Digital Harvest, a data analytics company first and a robotics company second, with an exclusive focus on agriculture. He’s playing the long game and sees no other market with bigger transformation potential than agriculture. Under his leadership, Digital Harvest leverages the compounding benefits from combining sensor data from satellites, manned and unmanned systems, and proximal ground sensing technologies to deliver solutions that enable growers to make better yield and profit impacting decisions.

How is he making an impact?

It’s easy to talk about “precision agriculture” as a single industry, but the reality is that farmers who grow apples have very different data needs and requirements than ones that grow soy. This is one of the reasons that Young has been so focused on helping people understand that the economic model a grower is using has to be incorporated into the kind of technology they need to focus on adopting.

Talking about how drones can and will impact precision agriculture as a whole is an ongoing development, especially since many have referred to it as a “sleeping giant.” It’s the reason that Youngs efforts to define how farmers can see a real-world difference with drones is so critical.

What’s on the horizon?

By the year 2050, Kim expects the number of people living like his family, who live in a modest house, will swell from today’s 1.5 billion to 4.5 billion. It’s part of the reason that Digital Harvest is developing new, specialized applications such as nighttime crop spraying operations, precision spot spraying, and even rainwater removal from cherry trees using the rotor downwash. The “farm of the future” is one that he’s working to build in a very real manner.

Rather than just having a sentiment about what’s on the horizon, we’re trying to do something about it,” Young said. “\We can tie together info from a satellite and a drone with soil moistures data to create this real, interconnected farm. We’ve been able to test these things in this real-world environment that isn’t a research plot but instead has growers whose livelihood depends on being successful. Once growers see the benefits, the entire community is going to be able to take advantage of them.”

 

BONUS VISIONARY: Mike Winn

Who is he?

Mike Winn is the Founder and CEO of DroneDeploy, a cloud software platform for commercial drones. The company’s software automates drone flights, making it easy to capture aerial data with the mobile app, and then processes the data using computer vision to provide customers with actionable insights.

How is he making an impact?

Dronedeploy is working with the best solutions in the industry to bring them into the DroneDeploy ecosystem. Their App Market is an ecosystem of over 80 apps designed for agriculture, construction, roofing, insurance, real estate, compliance, and more.

Earlier this year, DroneDeploy became the first product capable of generating drone maps in real time after the release of its latest feature: Live Map. In June 2018, DroneDeploy raised $25M of Series C Funding in order to build the support they need that will allow them to bring drones to every job site.

What’s on the horizon?

Mike wants to extend DroneDeploy’s position as the market leader by expanding their ecosystem of over 80 platform apps and integrations and accelerating a series of industry-focused solutions. He also plans to invest heavily in artificial intelligence to build new workflows that solve some of the toughest challenges facing companies today, and believes automation will open up totally new value propositions in a variety of sectors.

“We’re just seeing the beginning of what’s possible with drones,” Mike said in the 2018 Industry Prediction piece put together by DroneDeploy. “In the next three years, I expect drones to be present
in almost every industry, operating autonomously on schedules to produce highly accurate data in real time.”

 

 

 

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About the Author

Technology in general makes João Antunes tick, but the specific ways it has created and changed the landscape in IT, gaming and computers ignited curiosity that’s turned into a passion for him. As the son of a journalist writing about how these industries have emerged and evolved, he has an incredible perspective when it comes to understanding the kind of disruption new technologies can create in a given space. He’s committed to showcasing what that disruption will mean for professionals as they work to utilize brand new pieces of hardware, software, systems and processes.

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