ToolsNotToys: Blog Post #5 - Volatus Drones

Every day, drones are used to make people’s lives easier. They have a number of applications across dozens of industries, and are used to make tasks more time efficient, financially efficient, and in some cases, to save lives. Drone’s have the capability to change how we work for the better. To put it simply - drones are tools, not toys.

Drones serve countless purposes in modern American businesses, one of which, according to a recent study by the Journal of Economic Entomology, is protecting the soybean-growing heartland of the north-central United States. 

The United States leads the world in the production of soybeans, being the nation’s most widely grown crop. 75% of that soybean production comes from the farmlands of the north-central United States. However, for the last 20 years, soybean farmers have seen crops destroyed at the hands of the soybean aphid, an insect pest native to Asia that was introduced to the United States in 2000. 

Scouting for the soybean aphid, which is normally done visually, has proven so time consuming that some farmers have opted instead for preventative applications of insecticides, thereby assuming the risk of harming non-target species and the development of insecticide resistance. 

However, recent drone imaging technology, coupled with the information gathered from this study, has offered farmers a much safer and time-efficient strategy for scouting. 

The study published by the Journal of Economic Entomology concluded that plants under stress (i.e. pest infested) reflect light in different patterns than healthy plants. Studying the Red reflectance from vegetation provides information regarding chlorophyll content in the plant’s canopy as well as whether the plant is actively photosynthesizing. Meanwhile, the near-infrared reflectance provides information about cellular structure, intracellular air spaces within leaves, etc. 

This information, however, is only useful if it can be gathered in a time-efficient and financially-efficient manner. This is where drones come into play. Drones equipped with multi-spectral imaging technology are able to simultaneously photograph reflected light of multiple wavelengths. These drones can paint a high-resolution image using this information, which makes it able to scout entire soybean farms for the evidence of soybean aphid presence in a matter of hours. 

“It just isn’t realistic for conventional scouting to cover every plant in a field,” said lead author of the study, Zachary Marston, PhD. “We hope these findings will help change the way soybean fields are scouted by using the drone to cover the entire field first and identify areas that are likely infested with aphids or another problem.”



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