These developments are flowing into agricultural production systems and naturally we will also see them in turf management. While some companies (particularly in the USA) are starting to make this technology available in a more turf specific format, it will probably be some time before we see fully integrated services provided in the turf industry.
Apart from aerial video of turf facilities what future benefits will drones and robotics provide? Drone trials are underway in Japan for delivery of snacks to golfers during their rounds. But what about for the actual turf manager;
- Robots for mechanical activities like chemical application, weed spraying, mowing, renovation, turf repair and establishment all seems feasible and is in development
- Monitoring insect, weed and disease outbreaks with drones and robots is already in development
- Analysis of soil moisture levels can be done with cameras and drones
- Nutrient deficiencies can be detected with some sensors
- Turfgrass temperature can be done with drones
- Turf health analysis is the ultimate aim of monitoring equipment and where this technology is heading
Data capture can be done by the use of various sensors and cameras including infrared, thermal, multi-spectral, soil conductivity and natural gamma. The human “factor” will always be required for interpretation of data and monitoring the equipment and systems, but no doubt the role of the turf manager will change in the future and this will require a new skill-set.
Companies in the USA will shortly be able to get data plans for their drones. This will allow drones to connect to wireless networks and stream images, video and other data back to earth. Currently the drone data needs to be downloaded after the drone returns from its flight.
The Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) at the University of Sydney in one organising working in this field in the agricultural industry. They have developed a range of robots with interesting names, SwagBot, Mantis, Shrimp, Ladybird, J3 Cub, RIPPA, VIIPA and a range of drones.
RIPPA™ (Robot for Intelligent Perception and Precision Application) and VIIPA™ (Variable Injection Intelligent Precision Applicator) are two particularly interesting ones. Together these technologies are being
evaluated for treating weeds at high speed with herbicides using a directed micro dose of spray.
The use of drones (or Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS)) is governed by the Australian Civil Aviation Authority (CASA). There are new regulations which came to place in September 2016 as well as a review of safety regulation in relation to the operation of drones has recently been announced.
Current regulations cover factors including;
- time of day when drones can be operated
- limits on flying within certain distance of people
- limits on flying above a certain height
- limits on flying within a certain distance of a controlled airport
- limits on flying over certain populous areas
Those using drones need to keep up to date with the CASA web-site and evolving regulations related to the use of drones.
The development of anti-collision systems is the technology which needs to be developed to expand the commercial use of drones, especially in the urban environments.
While new world may sound scary, it is coming and will offer new opportunities and challenges for turf managers.
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