The aim of the British startup «Skippy Scout: Softwarefor drones» created by Drone Ag involves the simplification of the crop scouting process. All a farmer needs is drone and a specifically developed software. Operations Team Member, Alex Macdonald-Smith is sure that a huge amount of potential is hidden in the agricultural drones. Alex has shared with AGRO.RU plans to create AI for Skippy Scout and expressed readiness to offer Drone Ag's product to Russian farmers.
Drone Ag has launched three platforms for PC. Could you, please, tell us a little bit about them? How do they help farmers?
In regards to the platforms we've released; Skippy is the only one. We are dealers of software and/or hardware for other companies, so FieldAgent, for example, is a software platform that was made by the American company, Sentera LLC. DroneDeploy is a separate entity, SlantView is made by SlantRange and Pix4D Mapper & Pix4D Fields are made by Pix4D.
These platforms are used for various things within and outside the world of farming.
Most of them have at least something to do with photogrammetry, whereby many images are stitched together into either a 3D model of a subject (a building, a sculpture or a field for example) or an orthomosaic (which is a 2D map made from all of those images).
Orthomosaics are particularly useful for farmers in that they can paint a very accurate picture of a field in very little time, using an automated drone flight. Farmers can then see areas within their crops which might need a closer look, patches of weeds or bare ground and everything in-between, and can make decisions based on the data they have collected.
Skippy Scout is the first software platform we have made.
Who became the investors of these projects? Have you used any crowdfunding platforms for fund-raising?
I can't tell you many of the people who have invested but one prominent investor was the agricultural merchant company «MSP» or McCreath, Simpson & Prentice, who we work closely with here in the UK.
We used Crowdcube as our funding platform.
Can crowdfunding platforms be effective for your projects? What’s your opinion about them?
Yes, they are very useful for startups such as ourselves, if you have a good idea that you want people to be invested in; you can leave it up to the public, who will invest if they agree with you and think your idea is worth their money and time.
Why did Drone Ag decide to launch Skippy Scout as an app for smartphones? Do you consider yourself as pioneers of these sphere?
We're definitely not pioneers as far as smartphones are concerned, but everyone has a smartphone these days, and they're very powerful, particularly when we're using drones. We think Skippy Scout is a pioneering app in terms of farm management for sure!
We're applying our idea to smartphones because it is the only way Skippy Scout would work at the present time.
Are Skippy Scout recommendations to farmers on weeding, fertilization and plant protection based on the evaluation of the condition of particular land plot?
The best way to put it would be that eventually it will all be based on our AI, which will be trained across all participating users.
So the recommendations for applications etc., once they are in place, will be based on everything Skippy is allowed to learn from. It is important to note, we are building this AI from scratch, specifically for this application.
It will be able to identify crop growth stage, green area index, disease coverage, weed content, pest damage and more.
We think this will be very powerful as it learns and grows.
The app trials take place all over the world, not only in the UK, but also in Ireland, the USA, Australia, New Zealand, some European and African countries? Do you perform any trials in Russia and Asia? Have you thought about selling Skippy Scout to Russian farmers?
We're not commercially available to anyone yet, you said yourself it is app trials only at present, but Russian farmers are free to sign up as testers if they want, right now!
And yes Skippy will almost certainly be commercially available to Russian farmers in the future! It's a big agricultural market and we want to help farmers all over the world, wherever we can.
Scroll to the bottom of this page to sign up.
Do you have any feedback on Skippy Scout from the trial users?
Yes, we do! At present, Skippy Scout is only a flight automation and image capture platform, so it flies the drone around a field, and at various points, descends to 2 meters above the crop and takes a high-resolution image, these images are captured from around the field and then beamed back to the user's phone for them to inspect.
Farmers seem to like this a lot for simple crop scouting and like us they see massive potential for Skippy Scout's future.
We think they'll love Skippy Scout 2.0.
Why did you choose DJI’s Mavic Air drone range? Is it the most popular brand?
We haven't actually chosen that specific drone! So at present, the app works with most DJI drones, including but not limited to; Phantom 3, Phantom 4, Mavic Pro, Mavic 2 Pro, Mavic Air and Matrice 200.
Do you consider any cooperation with other quadcopter manufacturers?
We are looking into other potential manufacturers for the future, but currently the app is tailored only to DJI's SDK, and will always work on DJI's platforms.
Today Skippy Scout can be installed only onto iPhone 6 and newer models. Don’t you think that you are leaving out a significant part of the market focusing only on iOS? Do you expect a sales lift after the implementation of the app for Android?
We will be making the android version of Skippy Scout down the line, and implementing into as many devices as we possibly can in the future, we don't want to leave anyone out.
Our main focus is helping farmers, so we want the app to be as widely accessible as possible, whether that's with devices, operating systems, drones or farm management software. We're going to do our best to include everyone we can.
Who are the main present drone buyers in Britain - large or small farms?
It depends what kind of drones to be honest. And I'm not really sure!
Larger farms, crop research organisations and universities tend to buy more advanced drones, such as the DJI M210, and mount multispectral sensors on-board such as Sentera's AGX710 or Micasense's Altum.
But Skippy Scout will be compatible with these drones, and with consumer grade drones as well.
It's often the case that a farmer on a small farm or someone he/she knows, owns a consumer level drone. They're able to use Skippy just the same. Drones are getting more and more accessible, so it seems to me that all farms will have drones in the future, and it will become a universally useful tool for every farmer to take advantage of.
How do you see the future of the agrodrone app market in a couple of years? How, in your opinion, will the competition change?
We think it will grow massively, and that's a good thing for progress.
Growth is good, and as demand for food production goes up worldwide with a rapidly growing population, we're going to need more innovation and more opportunities to become more productive.
We think there's going to be a much bigger focus on agricultural uses for drones in the near future. There's a huge amount of potential there.