Students Use Drones to Gain New Perspective on Green Industry
A new course offered to horticulture students at Kent State Salem could not be more appropriately named: “Emerging Technologies.” This class introduces students to new technologies that can potentially revolutionize the ways food is grown and produced, including drones, sensors, GPS and other systems to optimize crop production.
And, yes: students get hands-on experience learning how to operate two types of highly-sophisticated drones.
Dr. Sheren Farag, director of the horticulture program, pointed out that drones are revolutionizing the green industry by transforming the way horticulture is managed, monitored and maintained. Understandably, therefore, it is important that students are prepared to use this technology when entering the workforce.
“Operating drones is becoming an increasingly desirable skill for employers in a variety of industries, including horticulture. As the use of drone technology continues to grow, companies and organizations are seeking individuals with the knowledge and skills to operate and maintain drones for a range of applications,” she noted.
“In horticulture, employers are looking for candidates with experience using drones for precision agriculture; landscape design and maintenance; forestry management; greenhouse monitoring; and plant research. These skills can help employers improve efficiency, reduce costs and enhance sustainability in their operations.”
As an example, Farag explained that Davey Tree, a well-respected tree and landscape care company based in Ohio, now uses drones to assess and survey trees, identify potential hazards and disease, and map out landscapes for more efficient and accurate management.
Davey Tree also uses drones for aerial application of pesticides and herbicides. By using drones instead of traditional spray methods, the company can reduce the amount of chemicals needed and minimize the risk of human exposure to these chemicals.
“Davey Tree also uses drones to conduct aerial inspections of power lines and other utility infrastructure, allowing for quicker and safer inspections,” she said. “The use of drones has increased the efficiency and accuracy of Davey Tree's operations and has also improved worker safety by reducing the need for climbing and other hazardous activities. The company's use of drone technology in Ohio has set an example for other tree and landscape care companies looking to improve their operations through the use of drones.”
The horticulture students on the Salem Campus currently use two types of drones for this course, both high-end devices designed for professional use.
The DJI Mavic 3 Classic is a compact and portable drone that uses a Hasselblad camera for shooting photos and video. It has a maximum flight speed of 47 mph and a maximum flight time of 46 minutes. While best used for aerial photography and videography, it can also be used for crop mapping, plant health analysis and monitoring livestock.
The other drone, the Inspire 2 Pro, is a larger and more powerful drone that is best used for commercial applications such as industrial inspections; search and rescue operations; and is also suitable for larger agricultural operations. It can fly up to 31 mph and features a dual battery system for added reliability and safety during flight.
“Students tend to find the experience (of operating drones) engaging and exciting, as it provides a unique perspective on the horticulture industry and hands-on experience in data collection and analysis,” Farag shared. “Many students who enroll in this course are passionate about drones and eager to learn more. Some students are even motivated to become certified drone pilots and start their own business in precision farming.”
Farag explained that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) requires anyone operating a drone for commercial purposes to obtain a Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate. To obtain this certificate, individuals must pass an FAA-approved knowledge test, which covers topics such as drone regulations, airspace requirements, weather patterns and emergency procedures.
Once certified, individuals must adhere to FAA regulations regarding drone operations, ensuring that they are operating drones safely and legally. In addition to the Part 107 Remote Pilot Certificate, other certifications or licenses may be required for operating drones in specific applications such as precision agriculture.
A new course called "Internet of Things and Artificial Intelligence in Precision Farming" will be offered this fall, introducing students to the integration of drones into precision farming systems for capturing high-resolution images, collecting real-time data and monitoring crops.
Farag noted that drones have revolutionized the field of agriculture/horticulture because they offer a wide range of applications in different areas.
Precision farming is one of the key areas where drones are being used for crop management by collecting high-resolution aerial imagery and data on crops, mapping crop health, identifying areas of stress or disease, and assessing crop yield.
Drones are also valuable for forestry management, including identifying areas of deforestation, monitoring forest health and tracking wildlife populations.
Landscape design and maintenance is another area where drones excel because they can capture aerial imagery and create 3D models of landscape designs, and help with maintenance tasks such as irrigation monitoring, plant health assessments and pest control.
Drones are also helpful in greenhouse management where they can be used to monitor environmental conditions, crop health, and identify areas of stress or disease.
“Drone technology offers a wide range of applications for horticulture, allowing for more efficient and precise monitoring and management of crops, forests, landscapes and plant research,” Farag said. “Overall, drones are changing the green industry by bringing about more efficient, precise and sustainable management of horticultural resources.”
Farag noted that, although the initial investment in drone technology can be significant, they can ultimately reduce the need for manual labor, increase efficiency and provide early detection of potential crop issues. Furthermore, she said, drones can provide targeted and precise applications of fertilizers and other treatments, reducing the overall environmental impact of horticulture operations.
“As drone technology continues to improve and become more affordable, its applications in horticulture are likely to continue to expand,” Farag offered.
It looks like the sky is the limit for horticulture students at Kent State Salem.
Cutline A: The class learning to use drones for horticulture needs include (from left) Chris Weeden; Militca Denee; Jessica Stokes; Alicia Costello; Fred Hausser, Dr. Sheren Farag; Jennifer Stokes; Morgan May; Krystibrea Torres; Gus Holman; and J.B. Mason.
Cutline B: All eyes are on the drone.
Cutline C: Receiving up-close instruction on operating the drone are (from left) Alicia Costello and Fred Hausser from Dr. Sheren Farag.