Featured NewsTrending NewsFAA UpdatesAgricultureAgricultural "Drone Swarms" Lifting Off


[Photo Courtesy Hylio]

22 April 2024

The Federal Aviation Administration has allowed the first exemption of its kind that lets farmers deploy drones of 55 lbs to seed and spray crops. The increased payload now makes "drone swarm" farming methods competitive with conventional tractors, and at a significant cost savings to the farmer.

Before the FAA exemption, each drone required a pilot and a spotter, and weight limitations while in flight caused drones significant extra time to work large fields.

Texas-based drone company Hylio applied for the FAA exemption—a move that could resonate across the droning and farming industries.

"On average, you're spending a quarter both up front in capital cost to buy the machinery," reported Hylio CEO Arthur Erickson. "Operating cost is about a quarter, or maybe a third, of what you'd spend for the traditional stuff."

There are other benefits.

A three-drone fleet, for example, is less expensive than one tractor, and also uses less water for chemical distribution, doesn't compact or otherwise compromise soil, and limits generator costs as it requires minimal fuel to recharge drone batteries in the field. Hylio helps with the cost faction, as well, because it doesn't charge software subscription fees. 

In addition, a two-person team can now operate the three-drone "swarm," tripling the pre-exemption coverage area, and get the job done as quickly as using a land-based tractor.

Here's the math part:

• According to Hylio, its fully loaded agricultural drones cost approximately $80,000 each (basic models are as low as $50,000).

• A basic tractor can cost $300,000 or more, and high-end tractors routinely go for more than $700,00.

• A farmer's three-drone fleet can therefore cost around $240,000, and also offer multiple use cases beyond seeding and spraying.

• Three high-end tractors—well, that would cost a mind-numbing $2,100,000.

Looks like drone-swarm farming could be a welcome "disruption" to farmers looking to manage profits and production.

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