Drone technologies could increase farmers' productivity by 500 percent

Tractors, plows, and mowers are all familiar equipment for farmers. But what about drones? DroneDeploy CEO Mike Winn says the technology will change the face of the agriculture industry.

How drone technologies will change the face of the agriculture industry

When most people think about drones, they generally think about the military, hobbyists, or enthusiasts. But drones, according to a new report from DroneDeploy, could increase farmers' productivity by 500 percent. TechRepublic met with DroneDeploy CEO Mike Winn to discuss how the company uncovered these results. Below is a transcript of the interview.

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Winn: Well, we asked a lot of people, and asked lot of our own users. That's the best way to understand their return on investment. I think one thing that's interesting about drones is that they don't just have one use case. Not just across every industry people are using them, but people are using them within every industry for lots of different reasons. That's helping them, already, perform better, helping farmers make decisions faster, helping them make better decisions, and helping them increase their productivity.

Patterson: So, according to your report, you have this fantastic statistic that advances in drone technology have helped, literally, weed out farms. How does this work?

Winn: Yeah. Well, what happens with a drone is you are able to get a bird's eye view of field very quickly. With that bird's eye view you can actually see a lot of information about that field, one of those features being if there are weeds. We have software that actually comes with DroneDeploy that enables you to detect weeds and provide your farm equipment with data that enables them to find those weeds quickly, and go and take care of them.

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Patterson: And where does the technology come into play? How would I, as a farmer, start using DroneDeploy's technology?

Winn: Great question. I think that's one of the most interesting things about drones is that they're so accessible. They're very easy to use, and they actually can be very inexpensive as well. Most farmers using our technology are using a drone that costs about $1,000. They pair that with our software, which also costs about $1,000, and with that they have all they need to get a bird's eye view of their fields in real time and be able to get amazing data about their fields, including what their population of plants are, what their stands count are, what percentage of their crops are generated, where the weeds are, where the crops are in distress. There's a huge number of things that can be done with a relatively inexpensive tool.

Patterson: Tell me a little bit about what your software does on the backend to improve efficiencies?

Winn: Well, our software actually runs the drone. You can imagine, you get a drone, what's the human interface to that? You download our software onto your iPad, your iPhone, or Android device, and that device will then be able to connect to that drone and tell it what to do. It'll completely automate that flight experience, so the farmer just needs to press one button. The drone will take off, fly across the land, and will be able to, in real time, be able to make a map of that field. With that map, it's not just a photo, it's actually a map of the entire 100 acre, 160 acre field, we'll people able to advanced analytic science.

Patterson: Where are these drones in use today? Is it in the American Midwest? As a native Iowan, I can certainly see how this would be used. Or are these used all across the world?

Winn: All across the world. Of course, the Midwest is a great area. We have lots of users there. But we have users across the world. In fact, I was just reading a report on our blog about drone usage in Brazil. There we've been able to help a mass of sugarcane farmers plant 75 percent faster because, for the first time, they've been able to get accurate contours of their land, enabling them to plant better and faster and replace the work that would've taken days for a normal person-oriented operation.

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Patterson: I wonder if you could forecast the next, say, 18 to 36 months in, not just drone deployment, but how cloud services like yours might impact other industries?

Winn: Sure. I think what we're talking about here is something interesting where the older industries, the primary and secondary industries, are being effected by software more than ever. There's tools like drones, essentially flying robots. There's other autonomous products coming out there. I've just seen, recently, autonomous bobcats that help construction companies move Earth autonomously. You're seeing more and more robots products enter the market. You're seeing more and more software help do analytics, combining AI with all the data that's been collected to help make better decisions faster on all job sites of every kind.

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Image: DroneDeploy