Are Drones in Your Future?

New technology for treating invasive plants in inaccessible areas

Engineering firms specializing in mobile robotic systems have developed multirotor drones (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle- UAV) complete with a lightweight spray system that can be used for a variety of agricultural applications. Most of the agricultural drones available on the market today were designed specifically to improve precision agriculture in row crops. However, some of these systems may have application for managing invasive plants in natural areas. An example is the Vector R30, a carbon fiber and aluminum constructed drone capable of autonomous flight in adverse condition.  Flight time can be as long as 45 minutes with a small stabilized camera payload, and up to 35 minutes with a 1 gallon sprayer payload. 

Spray systems vary depending on the manufacturer, but the Vector R30 uses pressurized gas to propel the liquid out of the tank. A small solenoid valve controls the release of liquid product from the tank. The valve is controlled by a switch on the operator’s hand held controller, or automatically by the autopilot system (such as flying GPS waypoints). Advantages of this system are lighter weight and increased reliability. With only one moving part (the solenoid spool) the tank system can be maintained in the field with simple hand tools.

The tank system can be fitted with a variety of nozzles, depending on the application. For example, when using the tank to spray specific targets, a pencil nozzle can be fitted that allows for a cohesive stream of liquid to be delivered to the target plant. A small real time camera system fitted to the nozzle allows for exact placement of the product on the intended target. Because the nozzle is placed in the center of the drone vehicle, the rotor wash does not affect the liquid stream, thus minimizing drift. A boom spray system is also available and is capable of dispensing small metered amounts of liquid over a wide area. 

Drones and sprayer systems must be fully compliant with the regulations laid out under the Federal Aviation Administration Part 107, and allow operation by anyone possessing a small Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS) operator certificate (similar to a driver’s license).  Agricultural drones are available for purchase from the manufacturer, and most come with training sessions as well as phone and email support.  Some companies will contract the drone and spray system, along with an operator, to land managers that want to measure the utility and effectiveness of the system on their lands.

NOTE: Reference to the Vector R30 does not imply the endorsement by Techline, but it is used as an example of technology that is available to invasive plant managers.


Vector R30 system

Agricultural Drones: An extensive Overview