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Ian Johnson (pictured below) is no stranger to aerial vehicles. With more than a decade of experience flying RC copters, Ian was hooked on UAVs the instant he discovered the community. Soon after, he purchased his first APM and DIY drone kit from 3D Robotics. Now he’s turned his passion for flying into a thriving agricultural research consultancy.

An MFA student in Science and Natural History Filmmaking at Montana State University, Ian was drawn to the extensibility of 3DR platforms for aerial videography and sensor-based applications. Partnering with fellow MSU student Chad Dawson, Ian and Chad recently started a business called Aerie Works, which conducts agricultural research using 3DR platforms in Bozeman, Montana.

“We are currently working with a number of universities on remote sensing projects,” explained Ian.

Aerie is currently collaborating with Charlie Rush, a wheat researcher at Texas A&M University. They are using the APM system and the 3DR Y6 to study the wheat streak mosaic virus. Through their research, they are capturing the progression of the disease throughout his fields. They hope to complete their research by May of 2014.

“Previously, farmers relied on hand-held sensors or cameras to collect data, which took hours,” Ian said. “Now it takes mere minutes. It also provides image resolution almost a thousand times better. As far as we know, this is the first time a UAV has been used to study this virus and track its progression over time.”

Aerie is under consideration for two more wheat disease grants to continue their research. They are also extending their reach into the alternative energy consulting market, providing detailed site surveys for new wind and solar farms in the US.

“Our goal is to become one of the top US service providers for agricultural remote sensing and landscape surveying. After we conclude the first phase of our research in 2015, we think we’ll be well positioned to be on the forefront of the commercial UAV industry.”

Photo credit: Kay Ledbetter