Crop-Spraying Drones: Worth the Risk?
Ian Wright posted on November 30, 2015 |
Agricultural drone offers major boost to farming efficiency, but has potential for misuse.
The Agras MG-1. (Image courtesy of DJI.)

The Agras MG-1. (Image courtesy of DJI.)

Agriculture has come a long way thanks to heavy equipment like tractors and combines. However, the next big leap in factory farming could be coming in a much smaller package.

The DJI Agras MG-1 drone is designed for crop-spraying. Capable of carrying up to 10 kilograms of liquid, it can cover 7-10 acres per hour at a maximum flying speed of 8m/second. In addition, it is able to adjust its spraying intensity in order to ensure even coverage.

The drone is dustproof, water-resistant and made of anti-corrosive material. Its four replaceable ceramic nozzles are each powered by separate motors and the drone can be folded for easy storage and transportation.

Users can control the drone manually with a custom remote or allow it to operate autonomously. In the latter case, the drone scans the terrain below it in real-time, automatically maintaining its altitude and distance from crops.

The MG-1’s most impressive feature is its intelligent memory system. After the drone is brought back to base to refill its tank or recharge its battery, it returns to its remembered position and resumes spraying.

The drone’s manufacturer, DJI (Da-Jiang Innovations Science and Technology) has announced that the MG-1 will see initial availability in China and Korea before entering other markets.

The video below shows the MG-1 in action. Although it is entirely in Chinese, it does an excellent job of visually illustrating the drone’s capabilities.

The MG-1 in action. (Video courtesy of DJI.)

Concerns with Agricultural Drones

It’s natural to think that any innovation in agriculture which saves time and money must be a good thing. However, there are potential issues with the MG-1 that could jeopardize its widespread adoption.

These are the usual apprehensions that come with virtually any new drone:

  • Privacy
  • Regulation
  • Safety.

The fact that the MG-1 uses microwave radar for navigation means that privacy is less of a concern than it would be if it used cameras. 

The worries about regulation and safety are more difficult to dismiss.

The current regulations for unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) in the United States require users to obtain a Certificate of Waiver or Authorization from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in order to operate UAVs in national airspace. Individual requests for exemption are required for commercial or business purposes.

Unfortunately, the current case-by-case approval system is far from ideal, as demonstrated by the Connecticut lawyer who managed to get FAA approval for a powered paper airplane.

It’s also much harder to hold someone accountable for the actions of an automated crop-spraying drone than for manual crop spraying. More seriously, the potential for the MG-1 to be co-opted for use in vandalism—or even chemical warfare—needs to be addressed.

Still, if these hurdles can be overcome, drones like MG-1 could transform industrial agriculture.

For more information, visit DJI’s website.

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