The copter-system being used at Sunbelt Expo costs between $60,000 and $70,000, said Eric Corban. He founded Guided Systems Technologies 20 years ago. He spearheaded getting this project started for agriculture with the Georgia Center of Innovation for Agribusiness two years ago.

The project is funded through a $100,000 grant from the centers of agribusiness and aerospace in Georgia, with roughly $10,000 matching funds from the Georgia Peanut Commission and the Georgia Cotton Commission. There’s an in-kind match from GST, which provides two copters to the project and the labor costs from Middle Georgia College.

Corban admits the technology might cost too much now to payoff for a small, individual farmer at this time, but if and when the market can mature and regulations ease to pave the way for farm-use flights for drones, the cost might drop to $10,000 to $15,000 per helicopter.

“Only in the last three or four years have we (GST) started to see how this technology can be used in an agricultural way,” said Corban, whose customers now are military or law enforcement related.

For agriculture use, Corban sees businesses developing, particularly crop consultants, to provide the aerial service to growers, which may end up the most economical way farmers can have access to this precise information.

The NVDI or remote sensing technology used on the copter isn’t proprietary, but is widely available. Corban says his company is investing in the packaging and technical support to get it up in the air, or what he calls a ‘turn-key’ system for agricultural use.

Right now, the Sunbelt Ag Expo site is the only location in Georgia where this technology is being tested for farm use high in the air. Considered a drone, this helicopter research is only allowed through a special Federal Aviation Administration certificate of authorization, which took about a year to get approved for the project.

Private citizens don’t have permission to fly such unmanned aircraft in public air space just yet. Right now, only military or law enforcement use is permitted. But Steven Justice, director of the Georgia Center for Aerospace, says the FAA is now working to provide regulations and certification process for commercial use for unmanned aircraft.

The Georgia aerospace center is providing input to FAA. Justice hopes the administration will give this new technology the green light, particularly for agricultural, in the next year or two.

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