Drones prove popular at Avalon Airshow 2017

By: Chris Thompson

Presented by

Wayne Lording, CEO of Freedom Drone Consultants Wayne Lording, CEO of Freedom Drone Consultants

This year’s Australian international Airshow at Avalon Airport featured a showcase of UAVs, including a presentation on the use of drones in agriculture.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and drones have a long way to go before their full potential is realised, but pioneers of the remote controlled crafts gathered at the airport at the weekend to share ideas.

Notable attendees were Freedom Drone Consultants CEO Wayne Lording, and Freedom Class CTO Dr Leonard Hall, who both outlined different benefits of drones when used on a farm.

Lording, a helicopter and fixed wing pilot, a registered horse and blonde cattle breeder, and olive farmer, spoke about using drones on his own Lording Estates properties when he discovered it made surveying the hill-ridden landscape far easier.

"One of the blocks next door is a tea tree plantation and one day one of the border fences was knocked down. We lost our cattle, and I have very expensive cattle which I was concerned about losing," he says.

"If they got into the Murrindindi State Forest I just wouldn’t be able to find them. Applications like this mean you can shoot a drone out, find them, and send the dogs out for them.

"As a farmer, I’m actually using this technology which is saving so much time, so much effort, and so much money."

Lording’s drone consultancy business is an advisory network of experts within the field of UAVs and drones, which help farmers get comfortable with and make the most out of drones. It also offers to send out UAV pilots to perform work on a client’s farm.

His colleague, Dr Hall, provided a technical insight into drones as technology currently exists, and where it could go.

He said drones have a lot of potential, especially for large properties, but says current flight times of most UAVs will not allow an operator to cover a massive area without a spare battery or a recharge.

"In Australia we have a lot of wide open spaces and big ranges. I came from station country where farms are 50km long and you really need a lot of range," he told attendees.

"There is no one size fits all aircraft. It depends on what you want to do and how you want to do it.

"If you need to go bigger, you’ll need to change the batteries more often and do lots of small missions around the paddock."

The missions Hall refers to can include data collection, which involves a drone flying over an area, generally crops, to gather information both visually and with data overlays.

PrecisionHawk AU & NZ operations manager Joshua Voelker said this is becoming a more efficient way for farmers to decide whether it is economical to put in more or less time into a particular job.

The US-based company has released an ‘App Store’ for drone data, which allows its customers to use different algorithms to monitor their farms.

"We do everything from plant height, to plant count or spacing, field uniformity, vegetative indexes, water pooling apps for standing water, and being able to calculate areas of crops which have been ruined," Voelker said.

"We’re also pretty excited about one we released this week called Absolute Nitrogen in Wheat, which allows users to measure that throughout the field so they know whether to put more or less out depending on what the case may be."

Voelker also explained the potential for drones to help a farmer accurately calculate whether it would be cost effective to continue spending resources on a particular field to redirect effort.

While drones still have a lot of development to be done before they can be used to their full potential, the Drone Showcase highlighted just how much progress has been made in recent years.

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