University of Minnesota researchers back drone use

Farm Forum

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — University of Minnesota researchers are using drones to survey the agricultural landscape in more than a dozen counties.

The unmanned aerial vehicles scour the skies for a different kind of enemy, soybean aphids, insects that wreak havoc on soybean crops. This is just one way the university is helping to advance the new technology, which is currently limited to noncommercial organizations, according to researchers.

The Federal Aviation Administration estimates the industry will be worth $90 billion globally over the next 10 years, The Minnesota Daily reported. Although the FAA hopes to allow drones to be used commercially within the next year, a U.S. Department of Transportation audit discovered it wasn’t likely.

The agency needs to establish the regulations as quick as possible so the U.S. doesn’t fall behind in drone research and technology, according to entomology professor Ian MacRae.

“We’re probably second to none in the development, but where we’re hurting is the application,” he said. “It’s important we get them incorporated in the national airspace safely.”

University of Minnesota researchers hope their work helps reduce misconceptions about drone use in domestic settings, while promoting the benefits of the technology at the same time. Some tried to fight recently proposed legislation that was meant to restrict drone activity. It was unsuccessfully drafted last session.

“Yes, they are being used for military and law enforcement applications,” said Demoz Gebre-Egziabher, an associate professor in the aerospace engineering and mechanics department. “But there is an equally large, if not more, non-law enforcement and military application of these vehicles.”

The school’s UAV Laboratory, which MacRae and Gebre-Egziabher are a part of, is aiming to improve how the insect infestations are monitored and addressed. The ultimate goal of the project is to encourage farmers to realize the potential drones have to aid in the process and decrease the need for chemicals, according to MacRae.