Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, once a reconnaissance tool reserved for the military, are beginning to take off in the private sector. Nationally, UAVs are now being put to work in areas typically reserved for an average person — turning people like farmers into amateur pilots and turning industries like agriculture into ‘precision’ agriculture.
On May 1, the Federal Aviation Administration’s first UAV testing site, located in North Dakota, will see action as trials begin on the Draganflyer X4-ES — a four-rotor helicopter system.
In the central Florida area, University of Florida researchers have been using UAVs since 2000 to manage and survey wildlife and other natural resources around places like Lake Okeechobee, Seahorse Key and Cedar Key.
Through funding from the Jacksonville District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, scientists are aiding in keeping navigable waters open for boats and larger ships by identifying invasive plants in and around the Okeechobee Waterway.
Matt Burgess, Program Coordinator of UF Unmanned Aircraft Systems Research, said organizations like this typically spend more money on manned helicopter missions, with biologists leaning out of open doors, but are becoming increasingly interested in working with UAVs.
In addition to classifying types of vegetation, smaller aircraft also have the added benefit of being less intrusive of wildlife the program is monitoring.
In Seahorse Key, researchers are providing high-resolution maps as well as tracking the nesting bird population for the National Wildlife Refuge as brown pelicans and ibis will begin nesting in the coming months.
“The system doesn’t have very good maps of their own property,” Burgess said.
With two flights they can cover the island and provide them with a high-quality print.
Prioria Robotics, Inc., a Gainesville-based company, primarily supplies UAS products to the military. However, with recent openings in airspace, Prioria has started doing business with universities and law enforcement departments.
“Over the past 15 years, the world-wide unmanned UAS market has grown exponentially,” said Bryan da Froto, CEO of Prioria Robotics, Inc., in an email. “The outlook is bright pending the further opening of airspace regulation.”