Up in Frames: Agroflight; Drones in Agriculture: Lessons From the Past and a Look Into the Future

Acharya, Anubhav, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Powell, Harry, EN-Elec & Comp Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Baritaud, Catherine, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Seabrook, Bryn, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia
Wylie, Caitlin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

June 2022 tied with June 2020 as the warmest June on record, increasing the concern for climate change worldwide. To combat the issue of climate change, many industries have taken many measures to reduce their negative impacts on the climate. One of the industries that has detrimental impacts on the environment is the agricultural industry which struggles with surface and groundwater pollution through the overuse of nitrogen-based fertilizer. As a team of 5 people, we created a drone with assisted manual flying capabilities; the drone was also capable of flying out into the fields and obtaining nutrient data from the soil and sending it back wirelessly to a ground station. This research paper captured my interest as I believe the issue at hand, climate change, and the inefficiency of the current processes in the industry impacts everyone worldwide. I believe it is important to be aware of new innovations that can cause our lifestyle to be more efficient. The STS research paper analyzes the current state of drones in the industry, dividing the industry into actors that you can individually analyze. The technical report acts as a proof of concept that drones can work in the field as proposed, and, as the research paper relies on the efficiency and benefits of the drones, the technical report supports the topic of the paper.
As observed in the technical report, with enough investment, time, and effort, one can manufacture, design, and successfully market the idea of drones to farmers to aid in fertilizer and pesticide dispensary. The benefits of this integration would be immediate, and it would increase efficiency as the act of precision agriculture (drones are more precise than human beings), and it cuts time (drones can immediately analyze results that would take 1-2 weeks through laboratories).
The issue of groundwater pollution impacts the environment we live in as a whole, and a narrower perspective from the technical report is that countering the increasing use of fertilizer in farmlands to the detriment of the surrounding by integrating new and advanced technologies like drones. To ensure a successful technical project, the group designed printed circuit boards, a software stack, and the physical structure of the drone. The process the team used in completing the project could be used in developing a feasible marketplace product for utilization in farmlands. Not only that, the technical project solves the issue of groundwater pollution and inefficiency in and around farmlands.
The STS research paper discusses that drones are in a similar position that tractors once were. The STS research paper question gauged our understanding of the relationship between drones and tractors. Further, it discusses the difficulty drones are facing when it comes to adoption in the agricultural industry. The way this paper was researched was by collecting and analyzing relevant sources (such as scholarly peer-reviewed books) and the current industry practices objectively.
The thesis statement compared the similarities between tractors and drones. Like tractors, drones help farmers accomplish more in the same amount of time when compared to the traditional methods employed in the farmlands. And similar to tractors, they are facing skepticism from manufacturers because of the reduced profit margins they would see as a result of the mass adoption of precision agricultural technologies like drones. However, as tractors were readily implemented and continue to be integrated into the field, drones are likely to have a similar fate.
To conclude, as humans, agriculture is important, and, with the current situation of climate change and population increase, it is paramount that we work on making our farmlands more efficient and effective than ever before. Through the technological paper, the group invented one facet through which this goal can be accomplished. And the STS research compared two revolutionary innovations in their early stages: drones now and tractors then, to predict and analyze the future of drones in the agricultural industry.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
drones, agriculture, technology, actor network theory

School of Engineering and Applied Science
Bachelor of Science in Computer Engineering
Technical Advisor: Harry Powell
STS Advisor: Catherine Baritaud and Bryn Seabrook
Technical Team Members: Anthony Zaitsev, Gabriel Mallari, Sean Benish, and Zach Khan

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