Megan Kaiser – Staff Writer
Being interviewed for a newspaper can be nerve wracking, but for Dordt senior Kyle Miller, it’s a breeze.
“I’ve been on the radio. I was in the Sioux Center news two weeks ago. Last week, Joshua Leary from the Iowa State Press came and did a piece that I’ve now seen in newspapers from Albany, New York, the San Francisco Gate, the Washington Time’s website, and I just got a text from my dad saying there’s another Iowa newspaper with his article,” said Miller. The reason for all of this press coverage is Miller’s research and expertise on drones.
UAV, or unmanned aerial vehicle, is the correct terminology. It’s a plane that takes pictures with a sensor. The cameras on his plane are standard, just like the Canon S100 that anyone can purchase at Best Buy. One camera is not modified and the other has an infrared filter.
“Infrared can pick up on crop stress before the human eye can. If the crop is stressing it either has pests, disease, there could be weeds in the field, or it doesn’t have enough of the right nutrients,” said Miller.
The drones take pictures every two seconds. Each corn plant is in 20 different pictures. All these pictures are then stitched together into one big orthomosaic.
“The picture usually ends up being around six gigabytes,” said Miller. “Then you can zoom in on that picture. Each pixel is going to be an inch, so you’re going to have really good photos to view.”
Unfortunately, the stitching together of pictures takes quite a bit of time.
“An eight acre field might take eight hours to stitch together, but with the newest technology right now, their flying drones and having them sent right to the laptop. So you’ll have this 6-gigabyte image back before the drone even hits the ground, rather than having to wait for the programs to stitch them together.”
This all didn’t just magically happen overnight for Miller.
“I’d been researching the use of UAV’s in agriculture for about a year and half and I had gotten to the point where I was sick of doing research. I sent out an email one day because I was getting frustrated.
“He sent an email to Agrobotics, a company based out of Boulder, Colorado, and that was his golden ticket.
“They were flying over a lot of corn and they were looking to expand out into Iowa and Illinois. I’m their first field representative, so I’m going out there and showing what agrobotics has to offer. They gave me the UAV for research, but it’s not mine. The system that I have costs about $8000. For me, that not’s pocket change,” said Miller.
Miller hopes to enter Ideafest again to update everyone on his current drone status.
“I think I’ll do Ideafest again just to wrap it up. Hopefully the same people come, maybe even more. I just want to show everything that has happened this past year with the whole industry,” said Miller. “It’s insane on how much has happened.”
Right now drone operators call themselves “the 5%,” because there are so few people doing it. It’s not legal to do it commercially, so Miller can’t make a profit of it.
“Until that happens, I’m not sure if I’ll have a job strictly with drones. I feel like I have enough research done as soon as it goes commercial. I’m starting to get more well known.” The future looks bright for Miller.
“It’s predicted in the next decade that the drone industry, not just Ag but overall, will project 82.1 million dollars in the marketplace. It’s going to be expanding rapidly.” At this rate, there will be some good opportunities waiting for Miller and other operators.