One part cartographer, one part software engineer and two parts entrepreneur, Luke Lundberg of Dakota Drone Works plans to change the landscape of agronomy with the use of his flying automatons.
“I actually started out as a recreational hobbyist, before I started looking into more industrial applications for them,” he told the Press as he readied the drone for flight. “I said to myself: ‘these are amazing machines; there’s got to be more to it than flying around and taking pictures.’ So I started researching what industries, what sectors were using drones and what they were using them for. It really became more of a passion looking into the technology and software.”
Lundberg, a Minneapolis native who arrived in North Dakota in April 2019, began his journey with drone technology by researching the major industries in Dickinson, agriculture, energy and manufacturing. While real estate is an obvious sector for many drone service providers throughout the country, Lundberg was particularly interested using his technology to help the area’s farming community.
“I wanted to build a business and I figured this would be a good market to get into because there isn’t doing it around here as a service provider,” he told the Press, his focus on machine’s controls. “There are farmers that using drones, but instead of having to make the investment into their program, I could provide the service for them. It saves them time and money, doesn’t take up a lot of their resources and it increases their yields.”
As the drone’s four propellers began to spin wildly, the machine slowly lifting off the ground, Lundberg explained the specifics of his aerial instrument.
“Here’s how it works— once you’ve selected a field, you want to create a flight plan and then you get in the air, about 300 feet,” he said concentrating his attention on the drone. Typically, I’m staying within 1½ inches of accuracy. So even flying at 300 feet, with the censors I’m using, I can be at 1½ inches per pixel.”
Perhaps the greatest tool for farmers in Dickinson is the Normalized Differential Vegetation Index filter (NDVI), which can effectively tell a farmer the overall condition of his field through a real-time, color-coded map.
“Previously, the only way farmers had any access to that information was through satellite imagery, which is outdated because it’s not real-time,” Lundberg said as rows of red, green and yellow filled his operating screen, slowly forming a detailed map of Lake Patterson. “With this, you can go out, fly the field, 160 acres in 15 minutes, and a real-time map is created instantly. Then you can apply the filter, which is going to show you plant health, through multispectrum cameras. So basically, the camera is catching how the plant is absorbing light. A healthy plant will absorb those green gammas whereas one that is distressed is going to reflect them.”
With the market booming for drone service providers like Dakota Drone Works, Lundberg and his company have big plans for the future: From the implementation of thermal imaging to his hope of eventually selling consumer drones, the machine’s operator predicts that, in the future, Dickinson will see the hovering appliances in almost every avenue of her commerce.
“I think that, just like a combine or tractor, they will become a standard tool for farmers,” he said in conclusion.