There has been a lot of buzz around drones in agriculture over the last few years. Companies are racing to equip themselves with faster systems, that can fly longer and process data faster.

There have been discussions about the benefits of NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index), and how farmers are using it to help detect disease, nitrogen or water shortages, and pest infestations among other things.

You can see a wide variety of crop ailments with this data, but the sticking point is that a farmer or agronomist then has to physically go to various locations in the crop to “ground truth” them, to find out what is really going on.

Well, there is one company that is doing things a little bit differently! Matthew Johnson, owner of M3 Aerial Productions decided that it would be a good idea to combine the relatively new technologies of Virtual Reality and Drones, by retrofitting his UAV with a camera that sees everywhere. Johnson uses a 360fly 4k video camera that records 360 degrees horizontally, and 270 degrees vertically.

“The only thing you can’t see with the camera is the camera itself!”

The Virtual Reality Crop Inspection Experience that is offered by M3 allows farmers to “ground truth” while standing in their office or living room.

How does he do it? First, he uses a fixed wing AgEagle RX60 UAV equipped with an infrared sensor to gather the crop health (NDVI) information. Then, using software to process the data, he determines the GPS coordinates of the areas in the field he’d like to get a closer look at. Finally, with his DJI Inspire 1 multi-rotor, he will fly to each location, at an elevation of only a couple feet, recording everything in the area in ultra-high 4k resolution.

“Then, we watch the video on our smartphone, placed inside a set of Virtual Reality goggles” says Johnson.

The result? A totally immersive experience, where the farmer can look around in every direction, pausing the video (yet still able to look around) when necessary, and otherwise feeling like he or she is standing right in the field.

“You are not restricted to seeing only what the camera sees anymore! When the camera sees everything, so can you!” It gives new meaning to the phrase “eyes in the back of your head!

By Press