A webinar series that begins July 15, produced through the eXtension Learning Network, may show that the future of unmanned aerial systems could just touch down in agriculture.

“It’s certainly a very emerging area of technology,” said Jim Robbins, professor and extension specialist for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture. “Our focus is going to be the connection between the UAS and its use in agriculture. That’s where it’s projected the greatest potential use is going to be.”

A 2013 report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicts the UAS global market to reach $140 billion over the next decade. The report also said that agriculture would make up 80 percent of the potential commercial market for the devices.

“We know that people in agriculture have a lot of questions right now,” Robbins said. “How are they going to be used? How may I use them? What types of platforms are available? What types of sensors are available? That’s what this group is going to try to address to help people better understand what the technology is, how it is regulated and various aspects related to agriculture.”

The webinars will introduce the world of unmanned aircraft systems and their potential uses, along with how to use the devices and any legal issues that could apply. As seen in other fields, the sky is the limit for UAS use in agriculture.

“A lot of farmers will likely use these devices in the future for crop monitoring,” Robbins said. “Whether it’s a nutrient or a pest issue, they’ll use them routinely for monitoring. They may use them to correct certain issues also. Our efforts over the past couple of years have been for inventory purposes. We’re trying to find a quick way from the air to count the number of plants, which can be a fairly difficult and expensive task.”

 For tech-savvy farmers, agents

While the webinar series will be targeted to extension agents taking the information to the fields, Dharmendra Saraswat, associate professor of geospatial technology for the division, said that the webinar series also targets the farmer and those wanting to learn more about the technology.

“It is not restricted to extension agents alone,” he said, “rather, it will target farmers who are technology savvy. Our target is also youth. We would like to engage 4-H youth and any other youth groups who would like to learn about this technology.“

The webinar series begins with an overview and intro to UAS on July 15 at 2 p.m. CST. The remaining installments will be released on a near monthly basis over the next year.

“Once we get this going, our aim is to cast a wider net,” Saraswat said. “To bring in people that are engaged in providing service to agriculture to be a part of this effort, to be an active contributor, and thus help promote safe and responsible use of this promising technology through proper education.”

The Unmanned Aircraft Systems webinars, offered at no charge to the viewer, can be found at https://learn.extension.org/events/2153#.VZVc9KMo6Uk