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Unmanned Drones Used For Spraying To Better Assist Crop Growth

DAVIS (CBS13) - Endorsed by the federal government, unmanned drones are now buzzing over Yolo County; and the weapons they use could help farmers grow better crops.

Flying just several feet above crops in is a Yamaha R-Max remote controlled helicopter -- an unmanned drone.

"Very specific, very targeted, very precise," UC Davis professor of engineer Ken Giles said of the drone.

The drones aren't targeting suspected Al Qaida insurgents or enemy bunkers, but pesky crop eating bugs.

"It's surprisingly easy to operate," said Giles.

Ken Giles, a UC Davis engineer professor, says the 200 pound chopper -- about half the size of a golf cart -- is used specifically for crops and will never fly over neighborhoods. They have to notify the FAA before even taking off.

Giles' team is looking for ways to help farmers spray and save. He says the traditional ground or aircraft crop sprayers use more chemicals than necessary.

"With an aircraft, we can treat three or four acres with much less volume, maybe a hundredth volume that this would take," he said.

Most ground sprayers can't navigate difficult terrain, like slopping ground.

It's something the wine industry may be interested.

"Grapes in Sonoma, Napa areas, where you have hillside applications, very steep hillsides and towns where we don't have access by ground," said Giles.

The drone could offer two invaluable benefits, safety and efficiency.

"We think, ultimately, it removes an operator from being exposed to a chemical. And it also allows us to place that chemical to be placed exactly where we want it; and just the area that we need it, without having to treat the whole field," said Giles.

He also says drones are already being commercially used by about 2,500 operators in Japan.

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