If you’re hiking in Colorado’s Great Sand Dunes National Park, look up.
The National Park Service staff is working to visualize and document the park’s natural resources for protection purposes. And to do that, they’re using drones. The park’s staff partnered with UAS Colorado in October 2016 to produce a a one-square mile map of a portion of the park.
Lyela Mutisya is a senior at Lewis University in Illinois, studying Aviation Administration. She’s got her sights set far beyond graduation day, and how she can use drones to eventually help her father’s coffee farm in Kenya.
Drone Girl: What’s your drone story, and what got you into it?
Lyela Mutisya: I took a course in fall of 2015 called Introduction into Unmanned Aircraft Systems. Before that, I had no idea about prevision agriculture or search and rescue applications for drones; I only knew about military applications. My professor started talking about all the things you could use drones for.
DG: Heh, that sort of sounds like my story! I also took a drone course in school — pretty much because it was the only thing that fit in my schedule. So tell me how coffee comes into play.
LM: The year before I had traveled to Kenya and found out my dad had a coffee farm. I was excited to find out one day that coffee farm would be mine, but also dismayed to find out he makes just 20 cents a pound of coffee. I thought, ‘I have to do something about this.’
They can’t afford fertilizer, which is one of the critical inputs in coffee production. A well-managed coffee farm can produce up to 30 pounds of coffee per tree, but a coffee farm that can’t afford fertilizer produces more like 5 pounds of coffee per tree.
In Kenya right now, the coffee production has declined. In 1988 they produced 130,000 tons. Now it’s under 50,000 tons of coffee. Kenya is known for its quality of coffee and it saddens me that they aren’t making profit.
I thought, ‘What if we used drones in coffee farms to help them manage fertilizer? If the coffee farm is well managed, they can produce quality cherries and make more money.’ I thought, ‘I could definitely do this.’
Drone technology is effective at collecting data to help coffee farmers improve crop health. They can have a role in efficient crop scouting, earlier yield predictions, earlier crop stress detection, enhanced irrigation management and control, and more precise nutrient and chemical applications.
The past 12 months have been a year of consolidation for the drone hardware world. Major drone makers including GoPro, Parrot and 3D Robotics have announced layoffs, while funding to drone-related companies has seen a drop-off.
But one area that’s still growing is in the software and service side of the drone industry. Measure, a drone service operator, is one of the companies leading that way. The startup today announced a $15 million Series B funding round with LionTree Advisors acting as the financial advisor. Measure’s last investment round was in September of 2015.
Measure is a startup that has built out a national network of licensed pilots. The pilots are trained to acquire, process, and deliver aerial data to enterprise customers for projects such as cell tower inspections, construction development, precision agriculture, disaster response and live media coverage. Its mantra is, “We don’t make drones. We make drones work.”
Measure’s pilots flew more than 1,100 flights throughout 2016 — that’s about three flights a day.
Parrot reported fourth-quarter revenues of $89.8 million, below its target of $105.7 million. Drones generated $63.4 million in revenue for the company, which also manufacturers headphones and smart devices including flower pots. Parrot said it is targeting 10% growth for its drone business in 2017 with a goal to break even on operation costs.