An unnamed aerial vehicle, or drone, large enough to carry tanks of fertilizers and pesticides has won rare approval from federal authorities to spray crops in the United States, officials said Tuesday. This is not the first time the FAA has considered the use of drones in agriculture but is a considerable development taking into account the broad range of uses this particular drone of able to provide. This is an important step to the use of drones with commercial purposes and another good news after we heard early this week that the FAA could be relaxing their position in relation to drones’ regulations.
The drone, called the RMAX, is a remotely piloted helicopter that weighs 207 pounds (94 kilograms), said SteveMarkofski, a spokesman for Yamaha Corp. U.S.A., which developed the aircraft. The features of the RMAX makes it perfect for agricultural uses, including spraying, seeding, remote sensing, precision agriculture, frost mitigation and variable rate dispersal. In Japan, RMAX helicopters are primarily used for seeding and spraying rice.
Smaller unnamed aerial vehicles weighing a few pounds had already been approved for limited use to take pictures that help farmers identify unhealthy crops. The RMAX is the first time a drone big enough to carry a payload has been approved, Markofski said. The use of drones in agriculture has taked off in the past year, and every day more farmers are using drones to have a broader and better understanding of their crops.
“I certainly understand their cautious approach,” Markofski said yesterday. “It’s a daunting task given our airspace is complicated.“
The drone is best suited for precision spraying on California’s rolling vineyards and places that are hard to reach from the ground or with larger, piloted planes, said Ken Giles, professor of biological and agricultural engineering at the University of California, Davis. Giles tested the drone in California to see if it could be used here.
“A vehicle like this gives you a way to get in and get out and get that treatment done.” Giles said.
Brian Wynne, president and CEO of the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, said in a statement that the approval highlights other potential uses.
“The FAA is taking an important step forward to helping more industries in the U.S. realize the benefits (drone) technology has to offer.” he said.