- The VoloDrone 18 rotors could save farmers money by reducing waste and overhead.
- Farmers have long embraced innovation, including other autonomous aids.
- Volocopter’s drone has potential applications in many other industries.
Volocopter, the multicopter startup, has teamed up with John Deere to announce a dusting machine project, Technological crisis reports. Volocopter’s base VoloDrone will be equipped with a set of agricultural trimmings to enable more controlled delivery of agricultural chemicals with the potential for less waste and possibly even lower overall cost.
A traditional helicopter has one or sometimes two rotors, and each rotor has a curved cross section like that of an airplane wing. These rotors can tilt like the flaps of an airplane. On the typical consumer drone, there are four rotors that are mounted at a fixed and static angle, one at each corner, which mimics the full range of motion and angle of attack of a traditional helicopter. (Twin rotor helicopters typically use the second rotor to generate more overall lift in order to carry heavier payloads.)
But Volocopter’s VoloDrone design has a huge 18 rotors, crowning a dice bag of Dungeons & Dragons of Hexacopters (six rotors), Octocopters (eight rotors) and more. Volocopter says the small electric, remote-controlled craft can carry over 400 pounds for about 30 minutes. Each can be programmed to follow a set path, saving time and money over manual control for farmers who walk the same routes as part of a routine. Even the manual remote control is far from the industry standard of piloted helicopter rental or equipped small agricultural planes.
Volocopter claims its air taxis and other models received the first multicopter flight permit, but multicopters, while new, have been around in one form or another for decades. George de Bothezat fled Russia in the 1910s and was hired by the US military to develop a four-rotor helicopter aptly called the Bothezat helicopter. Other experimental trades have had varying amounts of success over time. Certainly nothing mainstream has come close to the 18-rotor system of the manned Volocopter and the unmanned VoloDrone.
Drone startups and agriculture may not seem like the most natural pair, but small farms in particular are working on very slim profit margins. that large farms are not subject to. Especially when much of modern agriculture involves proprietary crops and fertilizers, the cost of over-application of nutrients and chemicals can be high.
In addition to this, careful and specific application is one of the fundamental ways farmers can reduce agricultural runoff from crops. Wasting less of these expensive products benefits farmers and their communities. If the VoloDrone partnership turns out to be successful, it is not difficult to imagine a tax break for the use of greener technology, such as those given to consumers and businesses that use greener building technologies and keep their devices up to date.
Agriculture is not the only potential market for a more efficient form of aerial distribution. Airplanes that drop a payload of water or fire retardants are one of the main and most expensive means in an attempt to fight forest fires. Chemicals in dry powder or foam form can be compatible with the relatively low payload (440 pounds equals about 50 gallons of water) of a VoloDrone-style electric device. The original electric Volocopter model is approved for transporting people, and its precise flight and relatively small form factor may be suitable for dropping firefighters directly to where they need to go.
The nearly 200-year-old John Deere company began with its own contemporary innovation. John Deere himself developed a new type of steel plow which revolutionized agriculture in unknown soil systems across the Midwest. Agriculture has always thrived on innovation, and the future may only be in unmanned drone deliveries.
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