In the Drone Watching series, student reporters talked with people from various backgrounds who have one thing in common: an active interest in the future of drones. We’re starting off with attendees of the eighth annual Unmanned Aerial Systems Action Summit, which took place in Grand Forks, North Dakota, last month and brought more than 375 industry professionals together for two days of networking and presentations.
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A native of Grand Forks, Kaci Lemler works as an operations manager and systems engineer for Field of View, a local company creating and selling aerial-imaging products for the agricultural and mapping industries.
Lemler was here as an exhibitor representing Field of View, but it was not the first time she had been to the conference. She previously visited as an engineering student from the University of North Dakota.
There, Lemler worked for a research lab on unmanned aircraft systems, doing payload development. Although the research started as a summer job, she continued with it throughout her education. Her work even led to a UAS-related topic for her graduate thesis.
After college, Lemler met fellow UND graduate and Field of View CEO David Dvorak and began working for his company.
“It’s really an up-and-coming industry,” she said of the UAS market. “It’s unique. It’s just grown so much, even just in the past few years.”
That growth has been especially noticeable in agriculture, Lemler said. When she started doing UAS research in 2008, agriculture wasn’t really mentioned as a possible use for drones. Even four years ago, when Field of View began operation, there wasn’t the buzz that there is today, she says.
The growing interest in the agricultural application of UAS, Lemler said, is largely driven by two factors: 1) practical usage of the technology and 2) fewer privacy and safety concerns than in other areas. Instead of flying over privately owned houses in residential areas, agricultural-use drones are flying over farmer-owned crops in unpopulated areas.
It all makes for a low-risk field in which to introduce unmanned aerial vehicles for public use, she said.
One such drone sits on a table in front of Lemler.
It’s a quadcopter UAV equipped with a multispectral camera sensor engineered by Field of View. The drone’s airframe, called the Phantom 2, was acquired from another company that sells but doesn’t manufacture UAVs.
The drone comes with four batteries, each lasting about 15 to 20 minutes—enough to map about 80 acres, Lemler said. The short battery life is common for such models, she added, and fixed-wing UAVs tend to have longer battery lives.
An add-on for the camera, called GeoSnap, manages camera triggering for both time and distance intervals. Each time an image is snapped, the camera’s position is logged through GPS coordinates.
Associated software analyzes the collected data and creates a file compatible with Google Earth, allowing a user to see all the images overlaid together, just minutes after a flight. Users can then see right away if any areas were missed and decide to fly again.
Multispectral imaging, like that facilitated by Field of View, allows farmers to see variations in plants’ health and optimize their crops’ production. Lemler’s work is part of a growing trend towards precision agriculture that won’t be going away soon.