Uses of the drones are virtually limitless.

In about 30 minutes, Owen and his colleagues set up flight points, flew the drone and mapped a 100 acre or so field of soybeans at the Virginia Ag Expo site.

Clearly, this could be a huge timesaver for crop consultants and could make their job more efficient and timely.

No longer would a consultant have to drive through and around a large field, stopping frequently to check for stress points such as disease, insect or weed pressure.

Not only would their scouting be quicker, but potentially much more efficient, because they would have a bird’s eye view of different areas of a field where they are likely to find stress points in a crop.

(You might also like Unmanned helicopter puts farming up in the air. Other useful information can be found at Unmanned aerial vehicles have bright future in precision farming).

Operation of the Virginia Tech drone is simple. It runs off a single RC battery, which requires frequent charging. The length of the flight is limited by the weight of the battery that powers it.

The drone flown at the Virginia Ag Expo can stay in the air about 15 minutes. The drone can be quickly landed, new batteries attached and be airborne in a few seconds.

Flight points are programmed into the computer guidance system and the drone then flies on auto pilot. The pilot who flies the drone essentially has to take off and land the machine.

The camera mount on the drone is gyro-balanced using a GPS system that keeps it perpendicular to the ground, regardless of the movement of the aircraft.

The high resolution cameras take video, which can be broken down frame by frame into high resolution photographs.

The drone typically flies at about 300 feet or lower. This allows it to take high resolutions pictures as the aircraft hovers over pre-set areas of a field. It also keeps the small aircraft out of the way of other manned aircraft that must legally fly at least 500 feet above the ground.

Though the drone has a range of about one mile from the controller, the Virginia Tech researchers set the range at 250 meters, or about 275 yards.

“The drone is highly stable, and even if you take your hands off the controller, the GPS system will hold the drone in a hover position, until you tell it what to do, or it runs out of battery power,” Owen says.

Keeping the $10,000 drone closer than a mile, he adds, makes it much easier to be sure it gets up and down safely and without damage.