A Hover UAV Client Success Story
Mustering Success with Drones – It was during the 2020 World of Drones and Robotics conference held annually in Brisbane, that Hover UAV was approached by Luke Chaplain an innovative entrepreneur in the Agtech space and 2022 Nuffield Scholar recipient who was looking to push his company to the next level. Luke’s company SkyKelpie is utilising drones for locating and mustering livestock in rural areas around Cloncurry in Australia’s northwest Queensland.
The benefits of remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) related technology for such an application are invaluable. To this day cattle are mustered by graziers on foot, horseback, dirt bike, vehicle and aircraft over enormous geographical areas. This comes at a significant cost not only fiscally but in terms of time tying up resources and labour that could otherwise be utilised for other pressing tasks on the station.
Mustering livestock using drones also has the added benefit of enhancing safety. Helicopter pilots no longer need to physically fly their aircraft within close proximity to the ground or amongst trees to get the herd on the move. With RPAS technology should there be an incident whilst mustering there could be an economic loss if the RPAS were to be lost into terrain but it is unlikely to cause loss of life which is a real risk for mustering helicopter pilots. Likewise, farming staff no longer need to drive over or traverse rough, on occasion unpassable terrain inevitably enhancing safety for all involved.
Sensor technology – Mustering success using drones
As drone technology has improved it is revolutionising applications such as mustering through ever-improving features like increased range, flight duration and improved sensors. These sensors in particular thermal sensors are now remodelling the way that livestock is located which historically had always been difficult, particularly on grazing land with uneven terrain or scrub. With today’s technology, this issue is vastly improved with the ability to identify and locate livestock day or night using zoom capabilities and thermal sensors. This improves inefficiencies and guesswork for all involved in the mustering operation.
Limitations and the Solution
When SkyKelpie first commenced its livestock mustering operations it did so under visual line of sight (VLOS) conditions meaning that the drone during the entire flight mission must have been clearly visible by the drone operator without any additional aids. Whilst this was sufficient to test the viability of RPAS technology to be an effective mustering tool, it was limiting when considering the geographical spread the livestock would roam. There needed to be a solution to this limitation and as such SkyKelpie sought firstly an extended visual line of sight (EVLOS) approval prior to a beyond visual line of sight (BVLOS) approval. To unleash the full potential of drone mustering it was imperative that a BVLOS approval be sought to allow for operations over larger geographic areas.
We are thrilled at Hover UAV to announce that Luke and SkyKelpie have recently achieved this BVLOS approval through the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA). This approval will be groundbreaking for SkyKelpie and allow for further work in developing methods of best practice when it comes to mustering livestock utilising drones. We wish SkyKelpie all the best and can’t wait to see the hard-earned results that will be achieved from this next phase of mustering innovation.