Australia’s drone revolution: our emerging UAV market

November 22, 2017

Drones are set to revitalize crops, preserve the environment and prevent disasters.

drones UAV

Drone data is an unexplored industry where Australia could become a key player in the global UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) market, predicted to reach $11.2 billion by 2020.

Author, entrepreneur and drone guru Dr Catherine Ball conducted a thought-provoking drone workshop with Professor Stuart Phinn of the Remote Sensing Research Centre at the Science Meets Business (SmB) 2017 meeting.

Ball describes Australia as the “perfect test bed for collaborations”. Unlike in many other countries, Australian airspace regulation easily allows for trials, tests and training. While Australia might not be at the forefront of drone manufacturing, Ball told the SmB audience that we can easily become a leader in smart operation if we use drone data wisely.

“People make decisions worth billions of dollars based on this information”, said Ball. Ball and Phinn presented an overview of how drone data is being used in agriculture, ecology and climate forecasting in order to benefit the economy, environment and communities.

What is Earth Observation (EO)?

The gathering of Earth information via remote sensing and on-ground techniques.

What is remote sensing?

The acquisition of information without making physical contact, normally using satellite- or aircraft-based technologies.

What is a drone?

An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV).

What are the benefits of drone data?

Drones often provides better resolution than satellite imaging, which can be adversely affected by cloud-based cover, and they negate the need to put people at risk when on-the-ground data may be dangerous to obtain.

Agricultural boost: increasing crop yield by 166%

Using infrared mapping, drones can predict crop yield and provide an early warning of crop stress to boost agribusiness.

WA-based agricultural UAV provider Stratus Imaging says that farmers can potentially increase their yield from $3,000 to $5,000 per tonne, and for a fraction of the cost of satellite imaging.

Oaklands strawberry farm director John Allen is excited about the benefits of the technology: “[Infestations] can do a lot of damage, so to find that five days earlier…could save thousands of dollars”.

Ecology: achieving a synergistic picture

Drones are increasingly being employed in the race to save our environment.

Dr Arko Lucieer, Associate Professor in Remote Sensing at the University of Tasmania, has invested in drones worth over $60,000 to monitor the health of native flora. “Linking ground, air and satellite data leads to a much better understanding of ecologically meaningful properties”, says Lucieer.

Wildlife populations can also benefit, says conservation ecologist Associate Professor Lian Pin Koh from the University of Adelaide. Koh is tracking yellow-footed wallabies in South Australia, where drones can cover large areas more efficiently than ground-based mapping and for lower costs than manned aircraft.

Natural disaster alerts: protection from fires, floods and storms

Sophisticated data engines to improve bushfire and flood forecasting are in the works. The Resilient Information Systems project combines satellite and drone data in a decentralised information network with enhanced bushfire prediction capabilities. Another CRC project is creating highly accurate 3D maps of the Clarence River, which will lead to better flood evacuation plans.

Drones could even prevent blackouts due to fallen power lines. Inspecting vegetation in power line corridors costs Ergon Energy $80 million per year, costs which would be slashed by optimised UAVs .

Ball sees “massive potential in drones as part of business and economic growth”, as well as benefits for the community and environment.

– Larissa Fedunik

Read more about the opportunities drones are providing in agtech and coastal monitoring.

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