SLANTRANGE Blog

Ag Drone Data Doesn't Have To Be Expensive: New Tools For A Profitable Drone Service Business

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Agricultural drones are transforming how crops are managed around the world. The low-flying, low-cost systems are able to create valuable new types of information that haven’t before been possible, and that’s creating a huge opportunity for scouts and drone service providers to fill a service need for growers who crave the data.

But high resolution aerial imaging creates a lot of data - A LOT. And how you manage that data flow from collection to processing to presentation will impact the profitability of your business in major ways.

"There are limitations to the amount of data one can process in remote areas and the speed at which data can be processed using traditional methods is challenged as new sensors produce higher resolution images. The concepts that SLANTRANGE has developed help resolve some of these challenges."
Norm Lamothe, Head - UAS Agriculture, Deveron UAS Corp.

As an example, let’s suppose you want to survey a 100-acre field (about 40 hectares) with a state-of-the-art multispectral system using a cloud-based data processing service. We’ll use typical system performance specs for today’s higher end systems in this example:

Survey Requirements

Area to survey 100 acres
Spatial resolution 5 cm
Digital resolution 12 bit
Imager size 1280 x 1024 pixels
Number of spectral bands 4
Flight speed 15 m/s
Network upload speed 5 Mbps
Required image-to-image overlap 75%

Survey Results

Number of flight legs 40
Flight time 35 min
Raw uncompressed data 15.5 GB
Upload time 6.9 hours
Data availability Next day

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As you might guess, this survey will produce a lot of data.  The need for 75% overlap between each image that goes into the orthomosaic, for 4 separate spectral channels, means you'll have to collect nearly 10.4 billion pixels of raw data.  So after a 35 minute flight (which may require a battery swap depending on your aircraft) you’re now standing on the side of the field with 15.5 GB of raw data that needs to be processed.

If you’ve invested in a good network connection, you can drive back to the office and start the upload process, which at 5 Mbps will take close to 7 hours (provided you’re not applying any image compression, which immediately compromises the value of collecting high-resolution data in the first place – a topic to be covered in an upcoming post!).

Once the images are uploaded, there will be additional cloud processing time, which can vary widely depending on what service you choose and what pricing tier you’re willing to pay for. In any case, sometime the next day you’ll have a map of the field and can decide if you need to drive back for spot inspections, additional data collections, or discussions with your client. If you don’t have a network connection, or a connection that makes these upload times impractical, you’re out of luck.

And that’s just a 100-acre example.  To run a profitable business, you may need to cover 500 or more acres in a day, where there simply aren’t enough hours in a day to upload all that data.

The SLANTRANGE Approach

We’ve architected a different approach specifically to address the needs of agricultural applications that generate large volumes of data.  That includes two important changes:

  • Processing starts on-board the sensor, during the flight so by the time you land, much of the processing is already complete.
  • We’ve developed a new approach to creating orthomosaics which requires only 20% image overlap and is so efficient, it can be completed on-site within minutes.

Let’s look at that same scenario using identical sensor and resolution parameters, but using SLANTRANGE’s processing:

Survey Requirements

Area to survey 100 acres
Spatial resolution 5 cm
Digital resolution 12 bit
Imager size 1280 x 1024 pixels
Number of spectral bands 4
Flight speed 15 m/s
Network upload speed 5 Mbps
Required image-to-image overlap 20%

Survey Results

Number of flight legs 13
Flight time 11 min
Raw data 1.5 GB
Upload time NOT REQUIRED
Data availability 10 min

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With this approach, you’ll have results within about 30 minutes of arriving at the field.  If there are crop issues identified in the map, you’ll know immediately so you or your agronomist can make a spot check or even take action while you’re still on location.

SLANTRANGE Reduces Your Costs

In addition to the speed and efficiency of the SLANTRANGE approach, consider the impact to your business.  You’re no longer constrained by network speeds and upload times, you don’t have to drive back out to the field the next day, and you’re collecting the same information in 3x less time and with 10x less data!

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So what does this all mean for you and your business? It means a LOT more acreage you can service per week, and the economics of your business are all about your cost per acre. We've developed a business cost model comparing our approach to several others in the industry, including equipment costs, software costs, operating costs, and labor costs and have found that you can typically expect a 3x reduction in your cost per acre with SLANTRANGE, sometimes much more, depending on the specifics of your business.

We'd like to help you make your drone service business more profitable, using some techniques tailored specifically for agriculture. If you'd like us to run our business cost model with the specific details of your business, schedule a call with us.

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Want to learn how SLANTRANGE can help your business?

Check out our website to learn more about our sensors and analytics, review our FAQ, and explore our online store. Or just contact us if you have any questions. We're happy to help!

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