Low cost fixed wing drones

Currently everyone is using DJi drones for prototyping FarmEd in Cambodia and Fiji.

These drones have limitations in flight time, area coverage, and a high cost. Developing a tailored drone to fit the required uses for FarmEd could increase productivity as the business expands.

Gathering larger amounts of information over longer periods of time is more suited to a fixed wing drone, though this increases the difficulty of use in launch and landing. 

My idea revolves around the development of an automated fixed wing drone which can be coupled with the required software to capture and analyse appropriate data. This can be done with a Raspberry Pi computer and some 3d printed parts, similar to that created with these instructions at a low cost (around 150 bones):

Necessary cameras/sensors could be fitted as required and it would be possible to include imaging software on the onboard computer as well, or to develop it through an open source platform such as dronecode. 

This obviously has limitations in its applicability over the current month, but could be a consideration for the future, I’m interested to hear the perspective of those currently on the ground in Fiji and Cambodia to determine the viability of developing something like this.

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edited on Jul 11, 2017 by Ciaran Hoare

Tiaan Stals Jul 11, 2017

Love this idea, and removes one of the biggest hurdles of the DJI drones at the moment which is the cost of the drones. The hardware is fairly inexpensive and easy to use and quite promising for scalability. The software looks quite well developed as well by the looks of it, and definitely has great potential for the drone project.

Vanessa Liang Jul 11, 2017

I think this alternative has great potential for future uses. Just something to keep in mind is that fixed wing drones need more space and control in order to launch and land them. This can be difficult especially as many Fijian farms that we've seen have a lack of large open space, as most of their land being covered by crops/ trees. If we were to utilise this, I think we would need greater preparation in terms of training for trekkers to fly these drones as they are more difficult than multi-rotor drones to control.

Ciaran Hoare Jul 11, 2017

You are correct. Whilst smaller flights are being undertaken in this month and potentially through summer, as the number of customers onboarded increases there will either be a need to upscale the operation of drone data collection. If FarmEd is limited to 20 minute stints of flight (and at $250 for a new battery), scale will slow down. Because flight times will increase, the drone could be launched from a different location, avoiding any trees (hopefully!).

Seth Coetzee Jul 11, 2017

Sounds like a great idea! Beyond the obvious limitations that you mentioned, I definitely think fixed wing drones represent an opportunity to create a scalable business as when the business grows, and requires ongoing drone flights to numerous farms over a large area, the current set up with DJI multi-rotor drones will come under stress and may no longer be viable (from both a cost and personnel perspective). Contingent on the viability of attaching a camera imaging system to the fixed-wing drone, this could be the way forward!

Jessica Stephanie Arvela Jul 12, 2017

Good thinking - we are only using DJI drones by chance as one was purchased for recreation. Not a good enough reason not to improve.

Kai Faulkner Jul 12, 2017

This has been one of my favourite vids since we started doing work with drones, really cool insight and not a single DJI in sight haha. The one he is using here can map 400-500acres on a single charge...

Ciaran Hoare Jul 12, 2017

He's got a Parrot

I do find the camera being used interesting as it's specifically developed for agricultural use:
Software used in the video:

Ned Loneragan Jul 12, 2017

Fixed wing drones could have great potential here in Cambodia.

Currently, we are mapping out land on a village by village basis as the local farms are small with largely unknown boundaries. The main crop that we have recorded so far has been rice due to its abundance across Cambodia, contributing to over 90% of agricultural land cover. These fields run for kilometers on end over the open countryside, providing a significant opportunity for the use of efficient long-life drones.

The attached image shows a map compiled from a battery of our current DJI Phantom 3 drone. These drones have been able to cover up to 25 hectares on a single battery from our current observations. Whilst this is a considerable amount of land being covered, fixed wing drones could be used far more efficiently to cover a greater area of land. The second image shows a potential route for a drone mapping out a 25ha piece of land. By minimizing the number of turns currently required for the drone we have already seen improvements in efficiency. However, by combining this with the use of a faster and longer lasting fixed-wing drone, we could see these improvements increased even further.

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Andrew Vild Jul 26, 2017

I like the idea. The benefits of DJI drones are ease of use for drone "noobs" as well as minimal mucking around.

Fixed wings are able to cover more distance, but at the cost of quality of imagery due to required flight height and average flight speed. Ultimately, this means that we need to define more clearly what kind of data we want to be collecting from our farms and whether a fixed wing or a quadcopter is the way to go.

We will want to move to fixed wing in the longer term iot achieve mass results. Maybe we should replicate the solar powered fixed-wing that was made in Europe (81 hour flight time)

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Ciaran Hoare Jul 28, 2017

I'm interested in how we could use this camera to mitigate that loss in image quality. I'd love a build day in Aus to see what we can come up with!

Ed Henderson Aug 15, 2017

Just to add for further consideration, is the Quantum Transition Drone. A hybrid model that both has propellers to enable vertical lift off, whilst also containing fixed wings to reach farther distances. This can be seen through their website:

Of course this more complicated technology comes at a higher price, but may be considered as a future option if successful scaling of FarmEd occurs.