Drones above

Using unmanned aircraft was just part of the job for Bob Lawless when he was a noncommissioned officer in Afghanistan. Now a strawberry grower in Polk County, Fla., Mr. Lawless would like to use the technology to make his farm more productive.

Driving through his company’s 18,000 acres is time-consuming and strawberries have a short, three- to five-day window for harvesting. With a drone relaying aerial imagery, Mr. Lawless figures he could deploy his staff more efficiently and harvest more crop.

The agricultural industry is just one of dozens of potential users of unmanned aerial systems, or UAS. Biologists at the University of Florida in Gainesville already are using a small cameraequipped drone to survey brown pelican populations off the west coast of Florida, manatees in the Florida Keys and pygmy rabbits in Idaho.

“The question, whether you are working on possums or something exciting like whooping cranes, is how many there are? It is the toughest question biologists have to answer. If you have images, you can determine vegetative types and what kind of habitats there are, and you can measure change over time,” said University of Florida researcher Franklin Percival.