Startup Aims to Make Sense of Drone Data

Posted: Updated:
The startup says its software is compatible with any drone that meets minimum resolution requirements. The startup says its software is compatible with any drone that meets minimum resolution requirements.

The founders of a West Lafayette-based startup say farmers and agricultural researchers have been flying high for several years with drones, but many have been let down after landing, when users struggle to make sense of all the data. “You can have a pretty picture, but what do you do with it?” says Progeny Drone co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Dr. Katy Rainey. The startup has created software it says can analyze and give meaning to images faster, cheaper and sans Internet access.

“If you want to quantify crop growth and development metrics from imagery—like how green they are, how tall, how large the canopy is—you have to use a computer, connect to the Internet, upload the data to the cloud and wait to get the results,” says Rainey, who is also a Purdue University assistant professor of plant breeding and genetics. “But information you get from drones is only valuable if you use it in real time or as soon as possible.”

That’s why the startup has created software it says analyzes drone data within minutes at the edge of the field and without Internet access, which can be difficult to come by in rural farming areas.

“[Progeny Drone] takes your imagery and quantifies the information you want on the crop you want,” says Rainey. “For a 10-acre field, we can process imagery in about a half hour or less. You can go from landing the drone to, ‘Here’s the height of my crop in these different zones in this field,’ within 30 minutes.”

Progeny Drone says its software, which it currently runs on an inexpensive laptop, is compatible with any drone that meets minimum resolution requirements. Unlike most systems, users don’t need to place ground control points, which Rainey says are “very labor-intensive” to put in a field and retrieve. 

Progeny Drone’s system divides a field into various “zones,” so users can evaluate different areas; for example, a grower may be testing varieties of corn or different pesticides, using distinct types in each zone. Rainey says, because the startup’s software is more accurate and precise than others on the market, it’s especially useful for research.

“[Researchers] are trying to determine the best management practices or may be testing a new product. We can isolate individual plots very easily, automatically and accurately,” says Rainey. “Instead of having plots, farmers might have a 10 or 100-acre field, and they can define their management zones based on the type of soil or some other characteristic. He can track the crops’ health and development using whatever unit is useful, and if he sees it’s changing or there’s some stress, he can address that.”

Founded just a few months ago, the startup has a handful of clients, all of which are private research companies in Indiana. Progeny Drone currently provides its service by taking a laptop on-site and operating the software for clients “very inexpensively, compared to other options.” The startup is investing in and developing a software product that clients would operate on their own at the field site; Progeny Drone expects to launch the software in six months to a year.

Rainey notes overcoming skepticism is one challenge the company faces. She says some perceive drones as “toys” and not tools for managing crops or collecting data. She believes others bought into early excitement surrounding drones, but have been disenchanted as they struggle to analyze their massive amounts of data.

“There have also been players in the marketplace that really under-delivered on their promises, so people are now skeptical,” says Rainey. “There’s been some hype, and people are maybe pulling back a little bit and being a little more critical, because they’ve learned it’s hard to use these technologies. That’s what we need to overcome.”

The startup has earned a $60,000 award from Purdue’s AG-Celerator Fund and a $50,000 grant from the National Science Foundation’s I-Corps Program. The startup hopes to grow “organically” without investors by helping clients find meaning in drones’ “pretty pictures.”

“We take [the pictures] and quantify things. Quantifying crop growth, development and health allows you to make decisions with data you never had before,” says Rainey. “People say it’s a crowded space or there are a lot of competitors, but we haven’t seen anyone who offers what we do.”

Rainey says, because field conditions can change quickly, the startup’s ability to rapidly convert data into helpful information is critical.
Rainey says Progeny Drone can also analyze past images that farmers or researchers have already collected.
  • Perspectives

    • What Do Customers Really Think of You?

      Ask a business owner how her customers think about the services they receive or the products they use, and you’ll hear comments like "they love us." But when a third party asks those customers the same question, the results can be eye-opening. I recently shared the story about developing a customer profile for a professional services firm that was eager to grow but lacked useful marketing intelligence about the business it was already handling. We helped them...

    More

Subscribe

Name:
Company Name:
Email:
Confirm Email:
HTML
INside Edge
Morning Briefing
BigWigs & New Gigs
Life Sciences Indiana
Indiana Connections
INPower
Subscribe
Unsubscribe

Events



  • Most Popular Stories

    • Scotty's Brewhouse Files For Bankruptcy

      Indianapolis-based Scotty's Brewhouse has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. The company says the decision was "driven largely by the challenges of some specific locations and was necessary because of the way the company was structured corporately." As a result of the deal, Scotty's will close four of its restaurants by the end of the year. In a news release provided to Inside INdiana Business...

    • Indy Chamber Unveils Legislative Priorities

      The Indy Chamber has released its legislative agenda ahead of the 2019 Indiana General Assembly. Priorities include early childhood education, hate crimes legislation and an increase to the state's cigarette tax.

    • Shelbyville to Debut Giant Sculpture

      Officials in Shelbyville will this evening unveil a new art installation in the city's downtown. The city says the four-story, $150,000 sculpture known as Blue River - Wind, Rain and Water anchors its ongoing commitment to public art.

    • Dept. of Labor Honors Eleven Fifty

      Fishers-based Eleven Fifty Academy says it is the first in Indiana and one of just a few in the nation to be recognized by the U.S. Department of labor as a registered software development apprenticeship program. The department is taking part in a ceremonial signing with the academy this morning at Eleven Fifty's headquarters in Launch Fishers. Founder Scott Jones says, with tens of thousands of tech jobs available in Indiana, the designation shows Eleven Fifty is...

    • Indy Airport to Introduce New Airline

      Indianapolis International Airport will today host an event to welcome a new airline. Airport officials say the provider will add more routes to IND's growing roster of options. Earlier this month, the airport reported record-breaking traffic in the third quarter. IND said the more than 2.4 million passengers that passed through the airport in the third quarter of 2018 marked an 8 percent year-to-date increase over last year and the best third quarter in the facility's history.