Why the Bungee Cord!?

Over the past year, many of my clients have been asking me why we use a bungee cord to launch our fixed wing Hornet drone here at Agribotix.  Why not make a drone that can be hand launched? - they ask.  Some have even suggested that a catapult launcher might be more convenient for field operations.  I've had a lot of experience with catapults and even built my own; one of which can be viewed here. Catapults offer consistent, reliable launches but with a price: catapults are expensive because they condense several pounds of tension into about a four foot span that a bungee would normally spread over ±40 yards; catapults need to be well built to withstand the stresses they endure, and even then they often break down.  Hand launches on the other hand are unreliable and often result in crashes due to operator error.  I remember this well from my time in the Army where I saw a lot of this happening.

But assuming we are only working with drone professionals who know how do a hand launch properly (and also know better than to put the propeller on backwards) there is yet another reason not to go with the hand launch: doing so limits the range of your drone!  This is because in order for your drone to be hand launched, it needs to have a wingspan that can produce adequate lift for takeoff at slower (hand launching) speeds.  Once that same drone is in the air at cruising speed, its wingspan will produce excess drag, this is why manned aircraft have flaps.  Flaps produce the extra lift at takeoff and landing needed to maintain flight at lower speeds but retract once the plane is cruising in the air so as to reduce the drag of the wingspan.  Although these work well on larger airframes, they tend to complicate the design of sUAS systems to a point where they become more of a burden than an asset.

Bungee cord launches offer a happy medium between the heavy costs of catapults on the one hand, and the limiting range (and crash potential) for a hand-launched drone on the other.  No matter how much battery weight your hand-launched drone is currently carrying, it could carry more and go farther if it were bungee launched.  We now have a video here showing how to use our bungee cord and how it is put together (1:30) -to be sure, there is a short setup time of about 8-12 minutes, but we feel this is a small drawback when considering the alternatives discussed above.


Agribotix and Lean: Learning, Innovating, Iterating & Improving

Agribotix is making great strides applying lean startup principles to the business of drones and precision agriculture.  Agribotix brings amazing new technology to market for precision agriculture: a low-cost system that allows growers to easily integrate imagery into operations, reducing costs while increasing productivity and profitability on the farm.

I recently picked up The Lean Startup, Eric Ries’ book on lean principles for growing new technology companies, and have been thinking about how to apply lessons from the book to product development at Agribotix.  

A company like Agribotix wouldn’t have been possible just a few short years ago…  Agribotix is riding a wave of technological convergence, delivering new capabilities to a global agriculture market enabled by the remarkable pace of innovation that we’ve seen across technologies, from cloud computing, to open source hardware and software, to advances in robotics and aerial systems.  Any of these technologies is impressive by itself, but when combined, becomes a force-multiplier, and enables Agribotix to rapidly introduce useful new products to market at an affordable price.  Here’s a quick rundown on some of the technologies that are converging at Agribotix, and how we’re using lean to be successful in the marketplace.

At Agribotix, we focus on delivering actionable intelligence to growers, like the infrared imaging and variable rate prescription map depicted above.  One of our primary tools for rapidly creating actionable intelligence for agriculture is cloud computing: scaling on-demand computation at the touch of a button & processing large amounts of data in a short amount of time.  Utilizing cheap and scalable virtual cloud hardware, Agribotix is blessed with the ability to test products with a global audience: whether you’re a vineyard manager in Chile or a corn grower in Ohio, you can access the Agribotix WebApp and take advantage of scalable Agribotix analytics. 

Open source software: A whole collection of software tools from the open source community have matured and when combined, provide Agribotix with lean capability.  Python for scripting, rapid prototyping and automation; tools like Orfeo Toolbox, QGIS & GDAL for geospatial data management and analytics; and geospatial servers like GeoServer for testing products with customers in the field.  These technologies together provide an open software stack, with a global community of users supporting the platform and contributing to the Agribotix lean capability.

Unmanned aerial systems: Agribotix integrates the most capable, durable and affordable components for drones. UAV systems continue the trend of getting cheaper, while packing more capability into smaller packages.  Agribotix is able to apply a lean strategy of rapidly prototyping UAS technology and testing it in the field, and adjusting designs to fit customer requirements.    Combining this strategy with open source products like 3D Robotics Mission Planner/PixHawk platform enables Agribotix to deliver drone systems molded to the agriculture market, with capabilities like fully autonomous flight, long endurance, and sensor systems tailored to applications. 

All of these capabilities would mean nothing without the technology to tie it all together in the field.  The fact that most new tractors come equipped with GPS and computerized systems as standard equipment means that the promise of remote sensing for precision agriculture is finally here. 

Agribotix is using lean startup principles to make overhead imaging affordable and accessible. When combined with enabling technologies like GPS, variable rate application, UAVs, and open source hardware and software, Agribotix products can be used to monitor crops from above, improving yields and saving money on the farm.