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17 Apr 2023

The Role Of High Payload Drones In Agriculture As Flying Robots

The Role Of High Payload Drones In Agriculture As Flying Robots

Drones are being used for an ever widening range of agricultural applications enabled by new technology and diminishing regulatory constraints. Most current drone options are small, battery powered units and when equipped with cameras or other sensors they are very well suited to scouting and monitoring tasks (see this earlier article). There are a variety of other farm-related tasks carried out with ground-based crews and equipment. Which of those are amenable to a drone-based solution? There is also a well-developed agricultural aviation industry based on piloted aircraft. Could some of those activities be handled by drones? To explore these questions, I interviewed two high capacity drone manufacturers and two ag aviation companies.

An entrepreneur named Bentzion Levison grew up in the US and moved to Israel when he was 10. He ended up serving there in the military, and then five years ago he decided to start a business called HevenDrones to pursue a vision of drones as “actionable, flying robots.” Doing that would require drones that could carry a significant payload and have a longer operation window. HevenDrones’ first iteration was a battery-powered version that could carry 75 pounds, but it only had a 20-30 minute operating time between charges. Levison decided to try a hydrogen powered unit. Such engines were commercially available, but they had to be optimized for this application. After some development his company came up with a drone design that can carry a 75-pound payload for 2 to 3 hours. It has both a hover-mode and a fast-flight mode so that it can do detailed tasks but also cover substantial distances. Compressed hydrogen is available in tanks, but HevenDrones has also developed an in-the-field electrolizer that can use power from the grid or a solar panel to generate hydrogen from water and compress it. The drones can be run by an operator or by a computer. They can also work as a “swarm”. The drones are designed to fit in the back of a normal pickup truck.

HevenDrones is pursuing many applications for this high payload drone including homeland security, early interventions in firefighting, installation and upkeep of solar farms, emergency delivery of food and/or medical equipment, delivery of COVID tests, construction and mining. They are also interested in pursuing agricultural opportunities and started with a project doing pollination of palm trees in the UAEUAE +0.1%. They are now exploring many other opportunities in various geographies including the US.

 

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