Lakeland College has announced that it was awarded a $67,085 grant from the federal government to purchase an unmanned aerial system (UAS), commonly referred to as a srone.
A UAS is the combination of an unmanned aerial vehicle with camera payload and image processing software. The research tool will impact multiple programs, including agricultural studies. It carries huge potential for advancing precision agriculture by providing timely, non-invasive surveillance and scouting of crops at a low cost.
“We can do things like get a map of the Normalized Difference Vegetation Index, which allows you to get a look at the health of plants. Potentially, that could be used for very early detection of a disease or an insect outbreak in a large field,” said Lorne MacGregor, the college’s director of applied research and commercialization.
While other post-secondary institutions have elements of UAS technology, Lakeland will become one of the first schools in Western Canada to acquire the full suite.
“Precision agriculture is reliant on data collection,” said Jose Van Lent, dean of Lakeland’s School of Agricultural Studies. “Unmanned aerial vehicles enable frequent non-damaging and whole-crop scouting, which can give producers better information to make informed decisions about crop management.”
MacGregor says he expects this type of technology to become commonplace in agriculture within the next 10 to 15 years. The ability for the college to get its hands on it should make the school very attractive to prospective students. The UAS will be ready for use in time for the 2015-16 school year.
“We’re actually training (students) for the tools of tomorrow, rather than the tools of yesterday,” he said.
The UAS will also have applications in fire and emergency services and environmental sciences.
UAS tools have become popular in police agencies for surveying crime scenes and devising tactical operations.
MacGregor says the school has a general idea of how it can be used for environmental studies, but is still figuring out the specifics.
“You could put this thing up above the bird’s nest far enough away that you’re not disturbing the birds, but with the camera pointed you could go around and look at birds’ nests to see how things are developing, how many eggs there are, all those sorts of things. A lot of observational studies, it’s just easier if you can get an aerial view of it. We think that there will be a lot of use for environmental things.”
He also says that the school plans to hold a public demonstration for how to use the UAS at some point during the staff-training period, which will take place over the summer.
“This is an extremely useful research tool, but it’s going to be fun, too.”