PORTLAND, Ore. — Idaho farmer Robert Blair is watching his crops from the sky.
He is using a remote-controlled airplane, called a drone, to watch over his 1,500 acres. The drone comes with a camera. The airplane is about the size of a turkey. It weighs 10 pounds and is 5 feet long. Blair uses it to get a bird's-eye view of his cows and fields. He grows wheat, peas, barley and alfalfa.
"It's a great tool to collect information to make better decisions," Blair said. He added that farmers are just starting to see what drones can do. Blair built his drone with a friend. Drones are also called UAVs. They are piloted by onboard computers. A person on the ground can also fly them with a remote control.
Experts say farming will be the best business use for drones. The technology is a perfect fit for farms. It is also great for areas far away from cities. Privacy and safety are less of a concern there.
Keeping An Eye On Crops
Drones are already being made for farms. They have cameras and other sensors. Farmers can use drones to watch crops. They can make sure the plants don't get disease. They also will spray chemicals on fields. The chemicals can help the plants grow. They can also keep them from getting eaten by bugs. Drones are already used for farming in other countries.
The technology could completely change farming, farmers say. It will make crops healthier. Drones can also improve the way farmers use their fields. This will lower costs. It will allow farmers to grow more crops.
Right now drones are mainly flown by the military. They use drones to collect information. Drones can also be used to kill enemies. But there is great interest in finding other uses for them. Drones are limited because of rules about where they can fly. People also worried about privacy. Drones can watch people without the people knowing.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) does not allow drones to be used for business. Businesses and researchers can fly them. But they need special permission. Drones can only be flown for research, flight demonstrations or training.
The government can use drones in the United States. About 12 sheriff's offices, police and fire departments fly them. The government also uses them to spot people crossing into the U.S. illegally.
Focus On FarmingThere are many concerns about drones. Most states have introduced drone privacy laws this year. About 12 states have passed laws. They limit the ability of police to watch people from the air.
This has made drone makers uninterested in coming up with technology to help police. Instead, they are focusing on farming, said Josh Brungardt. He works at a drone research company in Oregon.
Blair's drone isn't breaking current laws. His drone is basically a model airplane. Model airplanes are allowed by the FAA, which sets rules on flying. But they have to be flown below 400 feet in the air. They also have to be far away from areas with a lot of people.
Blair said his UAV gives him a complete view of his crops.
Companies and universities are racing to create the UAV technology.
Oregon researchers flew drones this summer. They wanted to check potato plants for disease. Oregon plant nurseries are using them to count trees.
Looking For DiseaseDrones are used in Florida to watch orange trees. They look for citrus greening. Citrus greening is a disease that kills the trees.
University professors in California teamed up with a big company. They used drones to spray plants to keep bugs away.
Some farmers are afraid. They think groups that don't like them to use chemicals might spy on them. They could use drones to spy.
But Blair said the use of unmanned aircraft would help farmers.
Drones can help farmers be more environmentally friendly. Blair said drones can help farmers be more environmental. He said they could be more careful in where they spray chemicals.