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Oregon nurseries explore unmanned drone technology to monitor fields

May 9th, 2011

By Eric Mortenson, The Oregonian


Thomas Boyd/The Oregonian Jim Owen, an Oregon State University researcher, retrieves a radio control helicopter after a test flight Thursday at J. Frank Schmidt & Son Nursery in Boring.

BORING — It’s enough to bring out the inner radio-control geek in anyone who sees it. Buzzing like a swarm of bees, a six-rotor helicopter revs to life and vaults straight up, rising quickly above thousands of potted trees at J. Frank Schmidt & Son Nursery.

It’s only about three feet across and its spindly legs make it look like a flying spider, but this is no toy. Loaded on board is sophisticated GPS technology that sends it to pre-programmed points and maintains a constant altitude of 25 meters, slightly more than 80 feet. Dangling from its abdomen is a digital camera. A swiveling housing keeps the camera level even if the craft pitches in the wind.

Pilot Heather Stoven, an Oregon State University research assistant who learned to fly the machine three days ago, flips a switch and takes a series of photographs of the trees below.

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