Raised in Weld: Precision Aeroworks kicks off drone, data company in Weld County | TheFencePost.com

Raised in Weld: Precision Aeroworks kicks off drone, data company in Weld County

Kelly Ragan

Rob Valentine sported a NASA baseball cap as he scanned the field the morning of Sept. 29. It was just about ready for harvest. Though the morning's rain stopped, the wind picked up. Today, the drone would have to stay on the ground.

Valentine went into business with Travis Hergert in April, creating Precision Aeroworks. The company, based in Firestone, Colo., provides unmanned aerial vehicle services to mining, agriculture, construction and other industries. They use small, lightweight, remotely piloted drones fitted with high-resolution camera sensors to gather data over large areas.

"This technology is not the savior some folks make it out to be," Valentine said. "It's a very powerful tool. It has to be used with all the other tools and experience. It's inserting new technology into centuries' old practice."

The biggest hurdles thus far in Weld County are beating bad press and general negative perceptions, Valentine said.

“Every week there’s new things to try, new ideas.

— Rob Valentine, Precision Aeroworks

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"Actually flying the drones is a small part," Valentine said. "Our product is coherent data."

Valentine said his customer base generally includes the tech-sufficient younger generation of farmers who have learned to make flexible management decisions during the growing season.

Precision Aeroworks provides standard color and near-infrared crop survey maps for precision agriculture applications. Near-infrared imagery is processed into maps to help farms assess crop health and field management maps to use with variable-rate application equipment. Since April, Valentine and Hergert have flown over sugar beets, corn and wheat fields.

"Our biggest problem is finding solutions to the problems we find," Hergert said. "The drone isn't the solution, it's the identifier. We have to ask, 'How do I use this technology to come up with realistic solutions.' We're working on it everyday."

Valentine and Hergert agree that the information acquired by drone technology, thus far, sometimes stretches beyond agriculture's capacity to use said information.

"Variable-rate planting, for instance," Hergert said. "Drones can help identify where you need more or less seed. But that requires a variable-rate planter. John Deere has one but it's incredibly expensive."

The average farmer, Hergert said, wouldn't be able or willing to drop $250,000 on a new variable-rate planter.

"As technology catches up, those solutions will be easier," Hergert said.

For now, Hergert and Valentine push through with trial and error.

"The novelty wears off," Hergert said. Now it's about the computers and what we can do with them. That's the part that will sustain us, not the hardware."

Valentine came out of the University of Colorado in Boulder, building and testing things for NASA missions. His fingerprints are on MAVEN and Hubble. "What I do now isn't all that different from what I was doing before," Valentine said. "It's auto-piloted, it's remote sensing, it's learning from photographs. This thing has more in common with a satellite than a commercial aircraft."

Communication between manned and unmanned aircraft is still clumsy. For now, the guys at Precision Aeroworks and most other unmanned aircraft operations rely on relationships with nearby farmers and pilots to coordinate safely. For Hergert, this generally means shooting a text to an old friend with property in the area. With any kind of expansion, the text-message system won't work, Valentine said.

Several apps are undergoing beta testing to streamline the process. Some, like AirMap Software Development Kit, have been released to a limited number of application developers. It will be fully deployed by the end of November.

Much of the appeal of the drone and data industry is the uncharted waters.

"No one's done it before," Valentine said. "No one can tell me I'm doing it wrong. Every week there's new things to try, new ideas." ❖

Drone-related services include

» Site Survey: Full-color, contour maps, elevation maps, terrain maps and more.

» 3D Modeling: High-resolution, 3D models of large sites and structures. Volume, surface and path measurements.

» Precision Ag: Near-infrared imagery for crop health analysis and field management maps for variable rate application.

» Aerial Photography and Video: 4k aerial video and high-resolution photography. Complete post-production services available.

For more information

Call (303) 956-7087 or go to info@precisionaeroworks.com.

Think Before You Launch: Safety guide

» Remain below 400 feet above ground level and five miles outside any airport or airfield.

» Keep your aircraft in sight at all times.

» Stay clear of temporary flight restrictions and any media interest areas including fires, crime scenes and sporting events.

» Remember that even micro unmanned aircraft (under 4.4 pounds) can cause extreme damage to manned aircraft and put lives in danger.

Hazards to remember in low-altitude environment

» Police & first responder aircraft

» Birds

» Aerial firefighters

» Aerial applicators and crop sprayers

» Towers

» General Aviation Aircraft

Tips

» Coordinate with manned aircraft and property owners.

» Avoid low-altitude hazards.

» Avoid farmers’ fields unless you obtain permission prior to flight.