WIUM Tristates Public Radio

WIU School of Ag Flying High with New Drone

Jan 19, 2015

Western Illinois University’s School of Agriculture will see things from a new perspective thanks to some new technology.

Ag Director Andy Baker said the school will use an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) -- or drone -- as a teaching tool and to assist with faculty and student research.

The drone has six engines, camera and video capabilities and a 15 minute battery life.
Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer

The drone is equipped to take photographs and video simultaneously. Baker said the aerial view will provide a better snap shot of what’s happening in the field.  

“You get the whole picture. When you’re walking through 10 foot corn it’s hard to get a perspective on what’s happening except in the area that you’re walking,” Baker said.

Baker said the drone has not been tested yet.  He said there’s a bit of a learning curve associated with the technology and students will benefit from learning the technology while in school.

“Our students are seeing a lot more technology when they leave the university and go into their careers. The technology is a big component of everything they do,” Baker said.  

The remote control will display a video feed from the drone so the operator can fly it.
Credit TSPR's Emily Boyer

Baker said the drone will be used to examine growing conditions and to identify drought or wet spots on Western’s fields.

“We also have some farmers that we are connected with that I think would let us come over to their farms and get some of that footage they could use themselves and we could use as classroom instructions,” Baker said. “I think the potential here is very high.”

The drone was donated by Munson Hybrids of Galesburg.

“In agriculture the technology is changing so fast,” said John Hennenfent, President of Munson Hybrids. “We know we need to have students who are trained in it at the college level to come out into the workforce with that knowledge.”

Hennenfent said the drone cost between $5,000 and $7,000.

“It’s like any new technology. As long as you don’t crash it or put it in the lake or those things that can happen, it should be usable for quite a period of time,” Hennenfent said.

WIU also plans to hire a new faculty member to better use the drone and specialize in precision agriculture. That person will primarily use technology to optimize the use of resources and farm output.