08.09.2016

Drones, allies of science and production

Created in the military industry, unmanned aerial vehicles –UAVs, also known as drones– are much more than tools used for fun. Implemented both for agriculture and disaster prevention, the services these airships render broaden the industry value chain and help specialists

Drones, allies of science and production

Drones, allies of science and production

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) –commonly known as drones– are beginning to render services for the robotization of the Argentine fields and help prevent forest catastrophes. In this context, the Ministry of Science financed the development of several kinds of these airships and held meetings with the public and private sectors to promote the use of these tools, which improve production processes among others.

Drones operate as a tool for decision-making processes regarding the agricultural sector, whether it be for the production of maté (yerba mate) and tea, the citrus and forest industry or rice production.

Drones operate as a tool for decision-making processes regarding the agricultural sector, whether it be for the production of maté (yerba mate) and tea, the citrus and forest industry or rice production. Years before, and through remote sensing, satellites were used to take photographs, detect weeds, the state of the soil and focus of infections, and map floodings among others. In this new phase, the producer can purchase one of these airships which offer the same kind of information to improve precision farming in a faster, more autonomous and independent-from-climate-conditions way.

In the framework of the program offered by the Ministry, which promotes the implementation of new technologies in production processes, the company Aurea Imaging (Foto Aérea), whose owner is Erik de Badts, a Belgium biologist based in Argentina, was granted financing and as non-refundable contribution (ANR, for its acronym in Spanish) $ 118,994. This contribution was made through the Argentine Technology Fund (FONTAR) of the National Agency for Scientific and Technological Promotion, and its objective was the development of two kinds of these airships: an airplane and a multirotor.

The multirotor, which can fly up to 20 hectares, is equipped with a multispectral sensor which captures in infrared the state of a cultivation and “is suitable for the collection of video and photo information on cultivation, such as wine, lemon or small plantations,” described de Badts; whereas the airplane is used for larger fields and is thought for grains. Apart from drones, Aurea Imaging also provides software and training, so that producers themselves collect the data.

“Ever since cheap tools to record leisure videos or events became available, producers got closer to this technology, and demand is nowadays growing a lot,” commented Erik de Badts, who also added: “I believe that in the next two years, we will find quality services providers who will satisfy the needs of producers in each town and influence areas. All this lets the producer control this information and apply it to the tasks they perform in the fields. We hope we can get to the next step, where each producer has a drone made to satisfy their needs,” he concluded.

Catastrophe prevention

The scientific use of UAVs is relevant. That is why the Patagonian Andes Forest Research and Extension Center (CIEFAP), together with a private company of the city of Trevelin, Chubut, developed a drone called Fénix 3d. This project was financed by the Ministry, in its capacity as member promoter of the Board of Directors of that Center.

Fénix 3d is used to predict the spread of fires because, by flying relatively near the fire columns, it provides a three-dimensional view and information which would otherwise be hard to collect and observe from the ground, without posing a risk to the crew. The images captured by this drone determine the geometry of the flames of the fire front side, define parameters that, along with temperature, function as inputs to mathematical methods to predict the behavior of a fire.

“In cases of emergency, drones stand out for their effectiveness, especially in isolated or hard-to-reach areas. The importance of the use of these airships in areas which have been battered by natural disasters has been proved, such as the 2015-2016 fire which went off in Los Alerces National Park (Parque Nacional Los Alerces),” confirmed Dr. José Daniel Lencinas, the CIEFAP director, who added: “When a forest fire goes off, actions must be taken as soon as possible, and a UAV displays data almost immediately, which enables access to information pertaining to the current emergency situation in few minutes.”

Association with the public sector

With the purpose of promoting the use of UAVs, the Ministry conducted the workshop “Actualidad y perspectivas de aplicaciones tecnológicas para el uso de drones” (The present day and technological applications perspectives for the use of drones), which gathered people who offered and demanded this technology. In this respect, aspects connected with the development of air platforms, sensors, earth control, software and services for image integration applied in areas such as agriculture, surveying, mining, safety and catastrophe control were debated.

“We must be close to the interested parties and help them. Producers are new technologies consumers as long as said technologies contribute to the benefit of the business,” voiced Nicolás Bergmann, the owner of Taguay, an agricultural and livestock management company in Córdoba, which dedicates to production in fields and looks for new technologies to enhance production processes.

Bergmann assured that institutions like the Ministry of Science, Technology and Productive Innovation of the Nation (MINCYT), Argentina National Space Activities Commission (CONAE), national universities or the National Institute of Industrial Technology (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Industria, INTI) and the National Agricultural Technology Institute (Instituto Nacional de Tecnología Agropecuaria, INTA) are essential for the development of the agricultural activity: “We help in the process of sharing experiences with different fields, and we have a very special relation with this Ministry since we mutually cooperate in the learning process and that of implementing this and other new technologies.”

The implementation of drones for sowing, pulverization, weed control and field mapping enables us to open up horizons which are increasingly promising. With regard to catastrophe prevention, this kind of devices provides us with real-time autonomous and accurate information, protects the safety of rescue personnel and helps detect and parameterize possible risk focus for the population. The adequate use of this technology broadens production and study horizons in order to create a better economic impact.

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