|DRONES PIQUE THE INTEREST OF ENTREPRENEURS|
Aruba, June 8, 2016 - Over the last few years, drones have gone from being a contentious military tool for airstrikes to a far more mundane magnet for aerial hobbyists.
But as drones move into the mainstream, entrepreneurs are finding ways to harness the technology as the core of their business ideas.
Ryan Jenson showed its business potential in a demonstration for his new venture, HoneyComb. His idea was to use drones to scout fields for irrigation and pest problems. If not caught early, such problems can cost farmers thousands of dollars an acre.
Nevertheless, farmers were left scratching their heads. Mr. Jenson said they asked him: “Why do we need those? And if we do, how can we afford them?”
He and his two co-founders at HoneyComb built a rough prototype. On a sunny day in August 2013, they gathered 50 growers at Gold Dust Farms, a 9,000-acre farm in southern Oregon that specializes in potatoes.
Usually farmers scout for problems on foot, covering approximately 10 acres an hour. The AgDrone from HoneyComb can cover 700 acres an hour, producing high-resolution 2-D and 3-D maps that can be used to assess most aspects of crop health.
As the drone soared in the sky above, the growers watched a screen nearby that showed a view from the drone’s video camera of the fields below. Once the drone returned, they saw photographs it had taken on its trip.
“A big light bulb lit up,” said Mr. Jenson, 30, who had an interest in aerospace and engineering at a young age. He took college classes at age 14 and began working for NASA at 18. “When they realized, ‘You’re telling me I can see every square inch of my farm whenever I want?’ They were sold.”
One recent convert to HoneyComb’s AgDrone found an irrigation leak, saving him nearly $100,000 in crop loss. Another grower was able to detect the onset of blight in his potatoes early enough to apply the needed fungicide in time to save the crop.
The company, based in Wilsonville, Ore., now has 16 employees and has raised $2 million in financing.