Crop-dusting drones may be next cash cow for China’s DJI as it trumpets release of Agras MG-1

Company claims farmers, other businesses will ‘improve efficiency of production’ by using its latest hot gadget as wildly successful start-up broadens its horizons.

PUBLISHED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 6:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 27 November, 2015, 7:29pm

Chinese drone maker DJI has launched its first drone designed for agricultural use as the company steps beyond the consumer market for unmanned aerial vehicles, which has received a huge boost recently as photography hobbyists have cottoned on what drones can offer.

The DJI Agras MG-1 has eight rotors and can carry more than 10 kilograms of liquid for crop spraying, with the ability to spray up to four hectares an hour. It also folds to make it convenient and portable.

“With this new product, we’ve shown that DJI can not only offer the ultimate aerial experience for the mass consumer, but also improve the efficiency of production and benefit for many others in all walks of life,” said CEO and founder Frank Wang.

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Shenzhen-based DJI in southern China is the world’s leader in the civilian drone market boasting 70 per cent market share for consumer and commercial drones. The company is valued at about US$10 billion.

The Agras drone is able to fly at up to eight meters per second and can maintain a steady spraying intensity from its four nozzles while in flight, the company said.

A report by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International predicted that agriculture will be one of the leading markets for unmanned aerial vehicles, with up to 150,000 drones sold each year for this purpose by 2020 in the United States alone.

AUVSI estimates the growth of drone technology in the US will create 100,000 jobs there by 2025.

Drones are expected to have two uses for agriculture. The new DJI drone falls under the “precision application” category as it allows farmers to spray fields selectively.

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The second expected use relies on using drones mounted with sensors to assess plant health and hydration.

Hong Kong-based robotics and software company Insight Robotics is also working on drone technology for use in farming.

Its software stitches together images of plantations captured by drones to identify areas of disease or insect invasion.

The technology, which relies on a camera that can analyse photosynthesis activity in the plant, reduces the time needed to check the health of a plantation from months to hours.

Battery life is one of the limiting factors for drones used for commercial purposes.

The drone will first be released in China. No price was given for the Agras.