The agriculture market for drones may be the largest true Commercial opportunity in the US and the second-largest globally. The benefits of using a drone on the farm include greater ability to monitor crop health and identify potential problem areas of the field. Ag UAVs are primarily used for monitoring crop health as part of a broader shift toward precision agriculture.
So how does a drone help in precision agriculture and how does the integration work? Precision agriculture involves the latest practices of farming using imaging, testing, and analysis to increase productivity and minimize waste. Drones are the latest iteration of precision agriculture, which historically relied on satellites or airplanes for imaging, but those methods are expensive, dated information, and often unreliable due to cloud cover at the time of surveying.
How precision agriculture is leveraging drones: Given the sheer volume of land requiring mapping, scouting, and spraying services, we see agriculture as one of the largest markets for Commercial drone use. Many farmers are finding the greatest utility in mapping and crop scouting, a service traditionally provided by local agronomists. Current offerings use UAVs that follow pre-programmed flight paths to develop aerial crop surveys, allowing farmers to identify developing risks and opportunities for yield improvements (e.g., disease, nutrient deficiency, targeted pest pressures, moisture deficits/surpluses).
Drones have many advantages over legacy piloted/satellite surveys, including improved accuracy, frequency, and turnaround time. The latter is particularly important as acute crop pressures vary at different stages in the growing season and can have an exponential impact on yields if undetected. While drones do provide spraying services, we expect this to be a very niche application, as the weight required to support pesticide tanks puts drones over the 55 lb regulatory limit for unmanned flight in the US.
Do you buy your own drone or look to 1UP for a Drone-as-a-service?
Over the next 5 years, we see two models for drones in agriculture. The first would involve farm-level ownership of a drone(s), and the second would see the emergence of companies like 1UP that fly drones as a service for customers. We have you covered in both models! If you own your own at Farm-level ownership: Mapping/scouting services are typically needed only during the summer growing season and are most effective when land is surveyed
on a weekly basis which gives you more flexibility to survey your crops as often as needed. Many farmers with large plots of land decide they are better served by purchasing UAVs directly for their farm in order to be able to surveil acreage as often as needed. Alternatively many farmers (especially farms less than 1,700 acres) believe drones are to costly to justify farm-level UAV ownership.
Oil and Gas inspection:
The challenge today: Pipelines traverse inhospitable terrain. Drilling rigs are hundreds of miles offshore. Refineries and production facilities may emit dangerous hydrocarbons. On top of these safety concerns, operational inspections are expensive – frequently taking place far from a base of operations and employing expensive helicopters and teams. How can 1UP assist? Drones are becoming standard tools for drilling rig and production platform inspection. Drones are even being used to monitor fracking sites for various gases being emitted.
Drone pipeline inspection, monitoring and maintenance
Like many other industries drone efficiency can assist midstream-focused oil and gas companies that traditionally use aerial surveillance and ground crews to monitor existing pipelines. Many pipeline operators inspect above-ground pipelines aerially at least monthly to meet federal and state requirements. 1UP believes we have a more efficient method of inspection than the Industry standard pricing for a helicopter crew ($2,500-$4,500 per hour depending on whether the service is an aerial inspection or involves sophisticated sensing equipment). According to the EIA, the US has more than 305,000 miles of interstate and intrastate natural gas transmission pipelines, in addition to over 55,000 miles of crude oil trunk lines and thousands of miles of additional lateral crude gathering lines. Many of these pipelines are constructed below ground, and therefore do not require much aerial monitoring. However there are many abandoned pipelines and wells above ground that thermal inspections are a necessity to be in compliance with applicable regulations.
The main risk posed by an oil or gas pipeline is the existence of a spill or a leakage that threatens to cause an environmental disaster, not to mention the risk of an explosion. A thorough system for pipeline monitoring requires the use of specific drone sensors that can detect rust or corrosion – or if the pipeline is beneath the ground, the existence of methane or changes in the surrounding vegetation that indicate a failure. One of the main benefits of using drones for oil and gas inspection is they can be programmed to cover large areas in a systematic way, as well as get to difficult to reach areas. Not only is this more cost-effective, but it allows inspectors a safe, flexible solution to many issues of restricted access, which may prove crucial in identifying a problem.