John Deere and Volocopter’s agriculture cargo drone is gearing up for application tests and its first field flight over the next growing season.
A demonstrator model of the VoloDrone equipped with a John Deere crop sprayer was displayed for the first time at last week’s Agritechnica. Featuring a potential payload of 200kg, the VoloDrone is able to cover an enormous area, especially under difficult operating conditions.
This large agricultural drone is the result of a collaboration between John Deere, who bring knowledge of farmers’ needs, and the urban air mobility pioneer Volocopter, whose flying taxis form the technological basis of the VoloDrone. Small drones are already being used in agriculture for stock control and mapping.
Both companies see great potential for the VoloDrone’s use in agriculture, with capabilities ranging from difficult topography to increased efficiency in the use of crop protection agents, sowing seeds or frost control. The development of this demonstrator is a first step towards bringing this innovative technology closer to commercial application after full testing in the field.
The VoloDrone is powered by 18 rotors with an overall diameter of 9.2m, and features a fully electric drive using replaceable lithium-ion batteries. One battery charge allows a flight time of up to 30 minutes, and the VoloDrone can be operated remotely or automatically on a pre-programmed route.
The drone frame is equipped with a flexible standardised payload attachment system. This means that different devices can be mounted on the frame depending on the application. For crop protection, the drone is equipped with two liquid tanks, a pump and a spray bar.
Thanks to the drone’s low altitude in flight, very large area coverage of up to 6ha/hr can be achieved and spray management improved. This would make the VoloDrone a sustainable, precise and cost-effective alternative to helicopters. Due to the system’s high flexibility and GPS control, more selective area-specific treatments are also possible.