UC Davis researchers test a remote-controlled helicopter to spray pesticides on vineyards, which are normally sprayed using ground vehicles. Yamaha, who supplies Japanese rice farmers with flying sprayers, provided the helicopter for these tests. Photos taken at the UC Davis Oakville Station in Oakville, Ca.
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OAKVILLE, Calif. —
Small, unmanned helicopters are being tested by University of California, Davis researchers for use in pesticide spraying at farms and vineyards in Napa Valley.
A team of agricultural engineers flew a 200-pound RMax helicopter built by Yamaha over the university's research vineyard Wednesday in Oakville, according to the Sacramento Bee.
The flight was done with water instead of pesticides.
The Federal Aviation Administration does not currently allow pesticide spraying from unmanned helicopters as it considers them "experimental" vehicles.
Professor Ken Giles praised the tiny copter's precision as it hovered and sped over vines to a top speed of 12 mph.
"The unmanned helicopter technology allows precision positioning," Giles said. "Plus, the hillsides are hazardous and time-consuming to drive and spray for a tractor."
A recent study by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International contends the agriculture industry would be the largest market for unmanned helicopter technology.
UC Davis is one of five universities in the U.S. studying the use of unmanned helicopters for agriculture, but the only one looking at pesticide use.
The FAA is expected to make a ruling on the practice as early as 2015, according to Giles.
One of the big advantages of the helicopters is spraying hillsides, which is more difficult for ground-based vehicles.
The helicopter can also work at 12 mph over flat areas -- typical vineyard tractors move at about 3 mph.
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