The Grand Signal

A digital magazine covering the intersection of technology, human rights and social change.

Farmer drones? Michigan State is making it happen.

Drones, quadcopters and UAV’s in general are all the rage lately as robotic technology continues to automate sophisticated human processes. The latest in the line is a product of MSU research meant to fly above a farm, monitoring it’s vitals and offering recommendations and up-to-the-minute feedback to farmers. This information allows farmers to pinpoint specifically where the problem is on a farmland, deviating from the age-old inaccurate and expensive shotgun method of farm maintenance.

“When you have a cut and need disinfectant, you don’t dive into a pool of medicine; you apply it only where need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary,” said Bruno, who is also a professor at MSU’s Kellogg Biological Station. “Rather than covering the entire field with fertilizer, it can be applied exactly where it’s needed. We basically try to do the right thing, at right place, at the right time”

The UAV isn’t just a camera: it has multiple plant-specific cameras monitoring plant temperature, hydration, height, nitrogen deficiencies, etc. The UAV runs on auto-pilot, and is built to withstand extreme weather. As a complement to the UAV, MSU has developed prop. software named System Approach for Land-Use Sustainability model (SALUS), which takes in the data and runs accurate forecasts on various farmland metrics.

“You have to use technology to help improve people’s lives,” Basso said. “The combination of UAV and SALUS is powerful and accessible.”

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