The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that farms will eventually account for an 80% share of the projected $127 billion commercial drone market, which is why a Cape Town start-up has already found ways to help farmers mange their land through drone photography and data analysis.
The Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International estimates that farms will eventually account for an 80% share of the projected $127 billion commercial drone market. By conceptualising, developing and building their own autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and systems, a Cape Town start-up is already helping farmers manage their land through drone aerial photography and data analysis.
Founded by two engineers, James Paterson and Benji Meltzer who studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Imperial College London respectively, the main focus of Aerobotics is to develop turnkey systems, which collect actionable data for their clients. This is an end-to-end drone solution that includes data processing, analysis software and support.
Paterson and Meltzer, both in their mid-20s, were top of their undergraduate class at the University of Cape Town. A few years later they reconnected and began to discuss starting a business together. Paterson had grown up on a farm in Clanwilliam in the Western Cape and had been inventing tools to assist in agricultural from as young as primary school. His passion for farming and engineering skills were perfectly suited to Meltzer’s strong talents in data collection and analysis.
“The drone space is growing quickly and it was the perfect opportunity to combine both our skillsets. We do everything in-house, from building and maintaining the drones to writing the software for them and processing data,” Meltzer explains.
Aerobotics, a seven-person company that recently acquired GIBS MBA graduate Andrew Burdock as its Commercial Director, currently focuses on the agricultural and mining spaces. It has a joint venture in place in Australia, contracts flowing in and is currently seeking funding partners as it expands in western markets.
With an American study showing that corn, soybean and wheat farmers could save an estimated $1.3 billion annually by using drones to increase crop yields and reduce input costs, the team is making steady progress in this sector. This is largely due to its affordability, ease-of-use and one-flight data versatility. The drones provide valuable data to the farmers, including determining where crops are under stress which helps to increase yields. “It’s all about early problem detection,” Paterson says, “Farmers can also use this data for reducing input costs by reducing both water and chemical usage.”
The Aerobotics drones are appealing in that they are entirely autonomous, which means that the user simply has to select an area that they want to scan and the drone will fly itself via autopilot. The drone then downloads all of the data and pin points, for example, where the crops are under stress. This allows the problem to be rectified before it has fully developed.
“The first time we used the drones and the software was a neighbouring farmer in Clanwilliam. With the drone, we were able to point out issues that the farm was having, which was caused by a windbreak that was taking away nutrients from the trees. The owner of the farm was blown away,” Paterson says. It was December 2014 and the company was officially born.
Aerobotics’ first client was the University of Stellenbosch’s Plant Readers Laboratory. Eighteen months later, they service several clients and have had over 20 drone sales across the board. Recently the South African Cane Growers’ Association (CANEGROWERS) has signed up too.
Innovations Specialist Richard Howes says, “SA CANEGROWERS, through its commercial arm, Womoba, has formed a partnership with Aerobotics to leverage the advantages of drones for precision agriculture. Current market pressures do not allow the luxury of outdated farming practices.”
He adds that Aerobotics technology will allow sugarcane farmers to reduce costs while increasing yields, improving sustainability and profitability in touch economic times.
In the mining sector, the drones are used to conduct surveys and measure stockpiles. According to a survey of 190 miners by International Data Corporation (IDC), two of every three mining companies globally are looking at remote operations and monitoring centres while half are evaluating new mining methods. A third are looking at robotics and one-fourth at unmanned aerial vehicles – drones.
“Mining is still a relatively new sector for drones, but we are making swift headway in the South African market,” explains Meltzer.
Yet this is just the beginning for the young company. They are looking to move into other large markets including livestock farming and security. They are also continuously developing the science behind their data in conjunction with other experts globally, ensuring that they can give their clients more in-depth analysis and a better understanding of the information that the drones collect.
The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates that farmers could see a return on investment on agricultural drones of $12 (R174) per acre for corn and $2 to $3 (R29 to R44) per acre for soybeans and wheat. With the South African agricultural sector accounting for 3% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and currently facing challenges including increasing resource limitations, depleted soils and over-extracted and polluted water reserves, not to mention a drought, the market is in need of this type of technology.
In fact a recent PwC global report on the commercial applications of drone technology, it is estimated that drones will bring a market value of $32.4 billion to agriculture and $4.3 billion to mining. The report finds that the drone revolution is disrupting industries across the board.
Prepare your cam to capture the Blood Moon
On 27 July 2018, South Africans can witness a total lunar eclipse, as the earth’s shadow completely covers the moon.
Also known as a blood or red moon, a total lunar eclipse is the most dramatic of all lunar eclipses and presents an exciting photographic opportunity for any aspiring photographer or would-be astronomers.
“A lunar eclipse is a rare cosmic sight. For centuries these events have inspired wonder, interest and sometimes fear amongst observers. Of course, if you are lucky to be around when one occurs, you would want to capture it all on camera,” says Dana Eitzen, Corporate and Marketing Communications Executive at Canon South Africa.
Canon ambassador and acclaimed landscape photographer David Noton has provided his top tips to keep in mind when photographing this occasion. In South Africa, the eclipse will be visible from about 19h14 on Friday, 27 July until 01h28 on the Saturday morning. The lunar eclipse will see the light from the sun blocked by the earth as it passes in front of the moon. The moon will turn red because of an effect known as Rayleigh Scattering, where bands of green and violet light become filtered through the atmosphere.
A partial eclipse will begin at 20h24 when the moon will start to turn red. The total eclipse begins at about 21h30 when the moon is completely red. The eclipse reaches its maximum at 22h21 when the moon is closest to the centre of the shadow.
David Noton advises:
- Download the right apps to be in-the-know
The sun’s position in the sky at any given time of day varies massively with latitude and season. That is not the case with the moon as its passage through the heavens is governed by its complex elliptical orbit of the earth. That orbit results in monthly, rather than seasonal variations, as the moon moves through its lunar cycle. The result is big differences in the timing of its appearance and its trajectory through the sky. Luckily, we no longer need to rely on weight tables to consult the behaviour of the moon, we can simply download an app on to our phone. The Photographer’s Ephemeris is useful for giving moonrise and moonset times, bearings and phases; while the Photopills app gives comprehensive information on the position of the moon in our sky. Armed with these two apps, I’m planning to shoot the Blood Moon rising in Dorset, England. I’m aiming to capture the moon within the first fifteen minutes of moonrise so I can catch it low in the sky and juxtapose it against an object on the horizon line for scale – this could be as simple as a tree on a hill.
- Invest in a lens with optimal zoom
On the 27th July, one of the key challenges we’ll face is shooting the moon large in the frame so we can see every crater on the asteroid pockmarked surface. It’s a task normally reserved for astronomers with super powerful telescopes, but if you’ve got a long telephoto lens on a full frame DSLR with around 600 mm of focal length, it can be done, depending on the composition. I will be using the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with an EF 200-400mm f/4L IS USM Ext. 1.4 x lens.
- Use a tripod to capture the intimate details
As you frame up your shot, one thing will become immediately apparent; lunar tracking is incredibly challenging as the moon moves through the sky surprisingly quickly. As you’ll be using a long lens for this shoot, it’s important to invest in a sturdy tripod to help capture the best possible image. Although it will be tempting to take the shot by hand, it’s important to remember that your subject is over 384,000km away from you and even with a high shutter speed, the slightest of movements will become exaggerated.
- Integrate the moon into your landscape
Whilst images of the moon large in the frame can be beautifully detailed, they are essentially astronomical in their appeal. Personally, I’m far more drawn to using the lunar allure as an element in my landscapes, or using the moonlight as a light source. The latter is difficult, as the amount of light the moon reflects is tiny, whilst the lunar surface is so bright by comparison. Up to now, night photography meant long, long exposures but with cameras such as the Canon EOS-1D X Mark II and the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV now capable of astonishing low light performance, a whole new nocturnal world of opportunities has been opened to photographers.
- Master the shutter speed for your subject
The most evocative and genuine use of the moon in landscape portraits results from situations when the light on the moon balances with the twilight in the surrounding sky. Such images have a subtle appeal, mood and believability. By definition, any scene incorporating a medium or wide-angle view is going to render the moon as a tiny pin prick of light, but its presence will still be felt. Our eyes naturally gravitate to it, however insignificant it may seem. Of course, the issue of shutter speed is always there; too slow an exposure and all we’ll see is an unsightly lunar streak, even with a wide-angle lens.
On a clear night, mastering the shutter speed of your camera is integral to capturing the moon – exposing at 1/250 sec @ f8 ISO 100 (depending on focal length) is what you’ll need to stop the motion from blurring and if you are to get the technique right, with the high quality of cameras such as the Canon EOS 5DS R, you might even be able to see the twelve cameras that were left up there by NASA in the 60’s!
How Africa can embrace AI
Currently, no African country is among the top 10 countries expected to benefit most from AI and automation. But, the continent has the potential to catch up with the rest of world if we act fast, says ZOAIB HOOSEN, Microsoft Managing Director.
To play catch up, we must take advantage of our best and most powerful resource – our human capital. According to a report by the World Economic Forum (WEF), more than 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa is under the age of 25.
These are the people who are poised to create a future where humans and AI can work together for the good of society. In fact, the most recent WEF Global Shapers survey found that almost 80 percent of youth believe technology like AI is creating jobs rather than destroying them.
Staying ahead of the trends to stay employed
AI developments are expected to impact existing jobs, as AI can replicate certain activities at greater speed and scale. In some areas, AI could learn faster than humans, if not yet as deeply.
According to Gartner, while AI will improve the productivity of many jobs and create millions more new positions, it could impact many others. The simpler and less creative the job, the earlier, a bot for example, could replace it.
It’s important to stay ahead of the trends and find opportunities to expand our knowledge and skills while learning how to work more closely and symbiotically with technology.
Another global study by Accenture, found that the adoption of AI will create several new job categories requiring important and yet surprising skills. These include trainers, who are tasked with teaching AI systems how to perform; explainers, who bridge the gap between technologist and business leader; and sustainers, who ensure that AI systems are operating as designed.
It’s clear that successfully integrating human intelligence with AI, so they co-exist in a two-way learning relationship, will become more critical than ever.
Combining STEM with the arts
Young people have a leg up on those already in the working world because they can easily develop the necessary skills for these new roles. It’s therefore essential that our education system constantly evolves to equip youth with the right skills and way of thinking to be successful in jobs that may not even exist yet.
As the division of tasks between man and machine changes, we must re-evaluate the type of knowledge and skills imparted to future generations.
For example, technical skills will be required to design and implement AI systems, but interpersonal skills, creativity and emotional intelligence will also become crucial in giving humans an advantage over machines.
“At one level, AI will require that even more people specialise in digital skills and data science. But skilling-up for an AI-powered world involves more than science, technology, engineering and math. As computers behave more like humans, the social sciences and humanities will become even more important. Languages, art, history, economics, ethics, philosophy, psychology and human development courses can teach critical, philosophical and ethics-based skills that will be instrumental in the development and management of AI solutions.” This is according to Microsoft president, Brad Smith, and EVP of AI and research, Harry Shum, who recently authored the book “The Future Computed”, which primarily deals with AI and its role in society.
Interestingly, institutions like Stanford University are already implementing this forward-thinking approach. The university offers a programme called CS+X, which integrates its computer science degree with humanities degrees, resulting in a Bachelor of Arts and Science qualification.
Revisiting laws and regulation
For this type of evolution to happen, the onus is on policy makers to revisit current laws and even bring in new regulations. Policy makers need to identify the groups most at risk of losing their jobs and create strategies to reintegrate them into the economy.
Simultaneously, though AI could be hugely beneficial in areas such as curbing poor access to healthcare and improving diagnoses for example, physicians may avoid using this technology for fear of malpractice. To avoid this, we need regulation that closes the gap between the pace of technological change and that of regulatory response. It will also become essential to develop a code of ethics for this new ecosystem.
Preparing for the future
With the recent convergence of a transformative set of technologies, economies are entering a period in which AI has the potential overcome physical limitations and open up new sources of value and growth.
To avoid missing out on this opportunity, policy makers and business leaders must prepare for, and work toward, a future with AI. We must do so not with the idea that AI is simply another productivity enhancer. Rather, we must see AI as the tool that can transform our thinking about how growth is created.
It comes down to a choice of our people and economies being part of the technological disruption, or being left behind.