Volume 25 / January 2016

UAVs on the Horizon

No matter the district, vector control resources are always at a premium. Mosquito control professionals constantly evaluate new technologies with the potential to increase program efficiency and effectiveness. To this end, unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are getting a lot of attention. Estimates indicate there are already around US$5.59 billion worth of UAVs in the market that can carry a payload of less than 4 lb, but the number of choices for UAVs that can be used for spraying pesticides is much smaller.

In May of last year, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) granted the Yamaha RMAX a Section 333 exemption, meaning it can be operated without a private or commercial pilot’s license provided the operator has at minimum a sport or recreational pilot certificate. The unit, which has been used for spraying crops in Japan since the late ’90s, has a gasoline engine and a payload capacity of just over 60 lb.

Broad regulations for commercially operating application UAVs within the U.S. have still not been released. Some manufacturers prefer the acronym RPA, or “remote piloted aircraft” to indicate the importance of the pilot’s role in commanding the device. At this time, the FAA is still reviewing each vehicle model on a case-by-case basis. Once a particular model of UAV or RPA has been approved for one type of spraying (e.g., agricultural pesticides) it becomes easier for the manufacturer to apply for additional uses in the same category.

Leading Edge has launched an RPA specifically for mosquito spraying with 30-lb payload capacity. The China-based UAV DJI recently introduced a device that can carry 22 lb of payload. Given the payload limitations of UAVs as compared to manned aircraft, larvicides that can be applied at low application rates will maximize flying time before reloading. All of the new aircraft are equipped with guidance/waypoint software, which enables them to fly autonomously without human input.