By Matt Sanctis
Clark State Community College recently conducted its first drone flight to collect data for a new precision agriculture program.
Clark State students will use data and thousands of images collected from the drone to piece together a map of a 17-acre Springfield farm field near the Springfield-Beckley Municipal Airport, said Aimee Belanger-Haas, the college’s dean of business and applied technology. Additional flights are likely in the next few weeks before students begin working with the images, she added.
Eventually, students can learn to analyze a wide range of data that will help provide insight into how healthy the crop is, Belanger-Haas said. There are about five students in the second-year class who will work with the images and 15 students overall registered for the program.
“It’s still relatively new, and people still don’t get everything you can do with this,” Belanger-Haas said. “I’m honestly quite happy with the enrollment that we have. We’re building at a steady pace, and these are classes we can manage at this time.”
The drone industry could generate more than $82 billion for the U.S. economy in the first decade they’re approved for commercial use, according to a report from the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International. Agriculture would account for more than $75 billion of that, the report said.
Sinclair Community College Monday unveiled a $5 million National Unmanned Aerial Systems Training and Certification Center, which will be used to help train students who will fly the drones. But Clark State’s precision agriculture program is the first of its kind in Ohio, Belanger-Haas said.
Clark State is working with SelectTech Geospatial, a Springfield company that specializes in unmanned aerial systems. The field that was the focus of the maiden flight was on airport property but is owned by the city, said Frank Beafore, executive director of SelectTech Geospatial. He described the first flight as perfect, and said the drone’s sensors and cameras were able to pick out trouble spots in the field.
“We could easily identify the dwarfed corn due to excess water,” Beafore said. “We were also able to very accurately gauge the health of the entire field, which will lead to yield calculation. The entire flight to do 16.5 acres was 10 minutes.”
Clark State students will continue to collect additional data as the program continues, Belanger-Haas said.
“This is just the first flight of many,” she said.
The Federal Aviation Administration is still developing rules that would allow the drones to be integrated into national airspace. However, Clark State worked with the Ohio/Indiana UAS Center in Springfield to acquire a Certificate of Authorization, which allows Clark State to use the drone under specific conditions.
The Dayton Convention Center will also host the 4th annual Ohio UAS Conference today and Wednesday. Experts from across the country will discuss potential commercial and government uses of UAS technology at the conference.