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This multispectral normalized difference vegetation index image of cropland was acquired by a Scout drone from Aeryon Labs.

A fledgling company in southern Alberta is using small drones to monitor sugar beets, potatoes and even cattle to help farmers better manage crops and livestock.

The unmanned aircraft systems (UASs) used by Isis Geomatics, Lethbridge, Alberta, can fit in a backpack when disassembled. When aloft, they use cameras to tag each part of a field with an exact location. A farmer then can scan the images to determine where to apply water or fertilizer or keep track of cattle. In agricultural applications, the drones are part of a trend toward precision agriculture: using technology to reduce costs and maximize yields.

However, agriculture is just one emerging commercial application for UASs. Drones, such as those manufactured at Waterloo, Ontario-based Aeryon Labs, are becoming easy enough for anyone to operate. They’ve been used for wildlife surveys and to map shipping routes. Isis hopes to add oil- and gas-field surveying to its services. Other firms are planning to use drones as super-efficient couriers to remote areas. “People are recognizing the opportunities,” says Ian McDonald, vice president of marketing at Aeryon Labs.

Image courtesy of Aeryon Labs Inc.

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