Heavy-lift utility drone for agriculture

John Deere and Volocopter have announced their cooperation on cargo drone technology and presented the first large drone adapted for agricultural use at Agritechnica 2019.

A demonstrator model of the VoloDrone equipped with a John Deere crop sprayer, which is ready for its first field flight, was displayed in the Future Technology Zone. Featuring a potential payload of 200kg, the VoloDrone is able to cover an enormous area, especially under difficult operating conditions.

This first large agricultural drone is the result of a collaboration between John Deere, who bring knowledge of farmers’ needs, and the Urban Air Mobility pioneer Volocopter, whose flying taxis form the technological basis of the VoloDrone.

Large drones are becoming increasingly important, not just in the field of logistics but also in passenger transport. At the same time, small drones are already being used in agriculture for stock control and mapping, for example.

Both companies see great potential for the VoloDrone’s use in agriculture, with capabilities ranging from difficult topography to increased efficiency in the use of crop protection agents, sowing seeds or frost control. The development of this demonstrator is a first step towards bringing this innovative technology closer to commercial application after full testing in the field.

The VoloDrone is powered by 18 rotors with an overall diameter of 9.2m, and features a fully electric drive using replaceable lithium-ion batteries. One battery charge allows a flight time of up to 30 minutes, and the VoloDrone can be operated remotely or automatically on a pre-programmed route.

The drone frame is equipped with a flexible standardised payload attachment system. This means that different devices can be mounted on the frame depending on the application. For crop protection, the drone is equipped with two liquidtanks, a pump and a spray bar.

Thanks to the drone’s low altitude in flight, very large area coverage of up to 6ha/hr can be achieved and spray management improved. This would make the VoloDrone a sustainable, precise and cost-effective alternative to helicopters. Due to the system’s high flexibility and GPS control, more selective area-specific treatments are also possible.

Appropriate flight and application tests will be carried out with the demonstrator VoloDrone sprayer over the next growing season. Further information on John Deere and Volocopter can be found at www.deere.com and www.volocopter.com.

 

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About The Author

John Swire - Deputy editor of Agronomist and Arable Farmer as well as responsibility for the Agronomist and Arable Farmer and Farm Business websites. After 17 years milking cows on the family farm John started writing about agriculture in 1998 and has since written for a variety of publications and has developed a wide circle of contacts within the industry. When not working John is a season ticket holder at Stoke City and also of late has become a fitness freak, listing cycling, swimming and walking as his exercises of choice.