The Van Trump Report

US Agriculture Just Got the Greenlight for “Drone-Swarm” Farming

The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) recently issued a landmark decision that clears the way for “drone-swarm” farming. Hylio, a Texas-based drone manufacturer, successfully applied for an exemption from the FAA to allow fleets of drones weighing 55 pounds or more to fly together.
Meaning farmers can now use fleets of drones that in some cases can totally replace traditional tractors and other expensive equipment.

Under previous rules, a single drone required a pilot and another person acting as a spotter. Because of weight limitations in flight, it took a long time to cover large fields. The FAA exemption allows Hylio to operate up to three heavy-duty drones simultaneously with a single pilot and without the need for a visual observer (VO), even during nighttime operations.

Hylio’s FAA exception is the first of its kind for machines that carry what the company calls a “meaningful payload” and makes the process competitive with traditional tractors and seeding rigs.

“Swarming drones over 55 pounds has long been the desperately sought holy grail in the agricultural industry,” Erickson remarked. “For years, the ag sector has been severely hindered due to the fact that only smaller, under 55-pound drones could be swarmed, leaving much of the potential productivity on the table.

The price tag for Hylio’s drones is around $80,000, versus the more than $300,000 for a conventional tractor. The figure is closer to a million when you get into higher-end models. On average, you’re spending a quarter both upfront, capital cost to buy the machinery, and operating cost is about a quarter or maybe a third of what you’d spend for the traditional stuff,” Erickson told Fox News Digital.

Erickson believes the ruling has the potential to provide not only increased productivity but also a solution to the labor shortages plaguing the agriculture industry. For instance, a single Hylio AG-230 AgroDrone can cover approximately 50 acres per hour. With the ability to operate three drones simultaneously, a single operator can now manage up to 150 acres per hour. This triples productivity and also allows for multitasking, such as planting seeds with one drone while others perform different treatments.

The FAA exemption is specific to Hylio’s drones that meet certain operational and safety criteria, which all of Hylio’s UAS models do. But it also sets a precedent for other companies to follow, potentially expanding the use of agricultural drones. Learn more about Hylio HERE. (Sources: DroneLife, Fox Business, AgriMarketing)

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