Monday, September 12, 2016

Canada funding ‘revolutionary’ development of drones to turn cattle ranching from art into science

The federal government is investing in the development of unmanned aerial vehicles that will sweep down into fields, use sophisticated cameras to scope landscapes and radio frequencies to track their targets — but the commands will be in the hands of cattle ranchers. The Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council awarded Thompson Rivers University in B.C. a grant of $663,940 over the next three years to fund the development of UAVs for precision cattle ranching, or individually monitoring each cow for maximum yield. John Church, an associate professor of natural resource science at Thompson Rivers University is leading what he calls “revolutionary” research into cattle farming. “(Cattle ranching) is done by guess and by golly; it’s more of an art than a science,” Church, who is a fourth-generation cattle rancher himself, said. “When UAVs are not being used for killing people, they have unlimited potential to transform this industry.” In partnership with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology, Church and a team of researchers will modify existing UAVs to monitor plant growth and water quality on pastures using near-infrared, multi-spectrum cameras attached to the drones. Higher-quality feed in the pastures will lead to higher-quality beef. Thermal cameras in the drones can also spot cattle from the air — even hidden beneath a forest canopy, he said. In the future, Church envisions drones being able to target individual weeds and spray a treatment targeting each one, not an entire pasture. The drones can also used be to herd cattle, Church said, but the process hasn’t been perfected and drones are better used for monitoring. “The cattle are afraid of the drone and want to run away… but if you don’t chase them with it, they learn to tolerate the UAVs exceptionally well,” Church said. “I’ve been within eight metres. As soon as they feel the wind from the propellers, they’ll move.” Church will also look into building specialized antennas to the UAVs that would allow them to detect radio frequencies from unique tags attached to each cow’s ear. Since the mad cow disease scare, Church said, each cow is required to have a radio tag.By using the drone to follow the signals to a location near its bovine target, ranchers could then use the antenna attached to it to find cattle from 12 metres away.  Ranchers can then use the UAV’s GPS system to get the precise location of cattle...more

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