A recent UC Davis news release describes a remotely piloted helicopter (aka "drone") that is being field tested in a Napa Valley vineyard. The researchers are using the Yamaha RMAX unmanned helicopter on the Oakville Experimental Vineyard. UC Davis worked with the FAA for five months in order to obtain a permit for the application of herbicide and pesticide sprays from a remotely piloted vehicle. The FAA requires 48 hour advance notice of each flight and the vehicle is limited to an altitude of 20 feet. From the news release:
“We have more than two decades of data on the performance of the RMAX in Japan, but we don’t yet have that kind of information on its use in the United States,” said Steve Markofski, a Yamaha business planner and trained RMAX operator. He noted that in Japan more than 2,500 RMAX helicopters are being used to spray 40 percent of the fields planted to rice — that country’s number one crop. “What Ken and Ryan bring to the table is their spray application expertise and knowledge of the current application methods that are in use in the United States,” Markofski said. “As we collaborate with them on tests of spray deposition and efficiency, we’re gaining insight into to how the RMAX performance compares to spray application methods that are being commercially used for this crop and this terrain.”
The Napa Valley's hilly terrain offers challenges similar to those of Japan's rice fields for conventional manned aircraft. Robotic spraying is hoped to be less expensive and safer than conventional aircraft or tractor-drawn spraying rigs. More photos and video can be found on the UC Davis press kit website. Read on to see some video of the robot in action.