Transport Canada gives eBee thumbs up

CALGARY — The delta wing eBee precision agricultural drone is based on the latest aerodynamic technology.

It carries a payload of powerful imaging technology with six sensors from which to choose.

Brent Chenier of Ag Business and Crop in Calgary said the eBee weighs 1.5 pounds when the camera and battery are installed.

“It’s constructed of high density foam and carbon fibre to save weight. Foam serves as a cushion to protect the electronics and also so the whole aircraft survives mishaps,” said Chenier, whose company is a dealer for the Swiss-built unmanned aerial vehicle.

“The foam has the approximate density and squish as the hard foam used in gym equipment. Engineers spent a lot of time optimizing safety factors. As a result, Transport Canada has deemed eBee to be the first fully compliant small UAV. The light weight along with the delta design makes it very efficient.”

The aircraft has a wingspan of 38 inches and is powered by a brushless 11.1 volt motor with a push propeller.

The wings detach in seconds, allowing the entire unit to be packed into its carrying case. It’s an easy matter to carry spare wings and quickly install them in the field in the event of damage.

EBee has a maximum flight time of 45 minutes. The number of acres that are covered in that period depends on flying conditions and how the drone is programmed.

The aircraft is fully autonomous. The operator works out a flight plan in advance and can customize for swath width, overlap and field shape.

A radio tracker has a range of more than 2.5 kilometres.

“It also lets the operator compensate for perpendicular flight loss in windy conditions,” Chenier said.

“It factors in flying with the wind, against the wind and in cross winds. That ensures that your data is gathered accurately and consistently regardless of conditions.”

Proponents of drone helicopters argue that they have an advantage in field scouting and mapping because of their ability to quickly stop and inspect specific spots in a field.

However, Chenier said the eBee flight planning software has options that can allow for quick adjustments and manoeuvres when climbing, descending or rolling.

“You can’t stop and hover, but you can go back and move in for a closer look at certain areas,” he said.

“We have a ground sampling distance (GSD) down to two centimetres per pixel.”

Six sensors are available, but only one can be installed at a time:

  • Canon S110 NIR: This customized 12 mega pixel sensor is controlled by the autopilot. It captures image data in the near infrared band, where high plant reflectance occurs. Images are used for biomass measurement, growth monitoring, crop discrimination and leaf area indexing.
  • Canon S11 RE: This camera differs from the NIR by capturing data in the red edge band where crop reflectance changes from low to high. This information is used to assess plant stress, chlorophyll, drought stress and crop senescence.
  • Canon S11 RGB: It captures regular images that humans see in the normal light spectrum. These images are used in real colour 2D and 3D aerial photography to check chlorophyll levels and evaluate drainage patterns.
  • Multispec 4C: This unit features four individual 1.2 megapixel sensors, each tuned to its own precise band and each with its own shutter for better image control. It also has a sensor mounted on the top of the eBee to take light readings of available light, thus ensuring that cloud or sun conditions don’t skew image data. Uses include biomass measurement, leaf area indexing, nitrogen recommendations and phenology.
  • ThermoMap: These types of maps are used for checking irrigation, plant stress analysis and other water related assessments.
  • Sequoia: This multi-spectral sensor will be released this month. It will have a sensor on top to help compensate for exposure and light conditions. Details will be released soon, but it is expected to cost about $6,000.

Chenier said the base price of the eBee will be more than $10,000.

For more information, contact Chenier at 403-830-5014 or visit www.agbusiness.ca.

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