Drone Research Draws Students At U-C Merced

A professor at{}U-C Merced believes{}drones are the way of the future for Valley agriculture.{}{}{}{} Young scientists are flying data drones to learn about agriculture and the environment in Central California. {}

Professor Yangquan Chen created the mechatronics lab at U-C Merced 18 months ago.{} He believes the flying machines can make life simpler for farmers.{}"We want to use a drone as a flying sensor so that we can understand the crop growth dynamics such as the stress level so we can use minimum possible water and minimum possible pesticides."

Professor Chen first began using similar drones in Utah to do ag research. {} But he decided to move to California in 2012 because agriculture is more vibrant here year round.

Lab{}manager Brandon Stark says the{}program has become very popular in just its third semester.{} "The fact that students get to play with robots and UAV's and any sort of electronics really drives the students out here."

Besides agriculture, students also focus on natural resource management and environmental monitoring.{} "Doing cutting age research is what drives us. {} Coming up with new ideas trying to explore new topics; things that people are now just thinking of. {} The students are brought here because they have ideas of their own," said Stark.{}

He{}says the drones are strictly used for research and to date there have been no complaints from neighbors about spying.{}

Professor Chen is hopeful that the Valley's ag industry{}will invest in his program.{} He says according to a survey by the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International, by the year 2025, 90 percent of agriculture will rely on the use of drones.

Currently drones aren't cheap but Professor Chen believes in the near future someone could buy, program and pilot an unmanned aerial vehicle for 600-dollars.

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