Drone puts on a bottle and gets into the application business

A remote controlled aircraft maker from China has stepped into small agriculture in a big way.

DJI is taking orders in China for a battery powered, eight-motor helicopter with a 2.6 gallon spray tank.

The company said the drone can cover about 10 acres an hour at low water rates, even with four battery changes per hour.

The Agras MG-1 takes advantage of DJI’s experience in flight controllers and precision guidance systems to provide centimetre-level accuracy, company founder Frank Wang said in an email.

The helicopter uses a form of radar to keep itself at a constant distance from the crop or intended target weeds, while GPS based mapping helps determine the right location for application.

The unit maintains as-applied maps, even through battery changes, and is capable of variable rate application based on actual ground speed.

It is selling in China for US$15,000.

The company claims the Agras is 40 times more efficient than farm workers applying pesticides from a backpack sprayer.

While it is aimed at smaller-scale agriculture, DJI said the drone’s ability to target pest problems and control them in small areas could also make it valuable on larger farms.

The helicopter has four ceramic nozzles, but the specifications on those are not yet available. Four pumps run from the rotor motors on which they are mounted.

The downdraft from the rotors helps ensure the spray reaches the target, the company said.

Cooling for the motors and batteries comes through the tubular frame. It is drawn in through three sets of filters at the unit’s core and to the motors, which keeps spray and dust out of the power units.

Operators can let the software fly an application map and take care of the spraying. However, there are also semi-automatic and fully manual modes, one allowing for autonomous flying and manual application and the other letting the operator do it all.

Wang said the company hopes to show it can provide equipment beyond the hobbyist level that can benefit industries such as agriculture.

DJI said it plans to soon take orders in South Korea as well as China, but has no firm dates outside of those markets. However, it said it eventually intends to market the new helicopter in other parts of the world.

The company has also partnered with U.S. company FLIR to develop a new, lower cost thermal imaging system for small aerial vehicles for agriculture and forestry.

Contact mike.raine@producer.com

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