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Flying high in Arkansas, USA

While most students spend the summer months on holiday, SRUC Rural Business Management student Will Blair was flying drones in Arkansas, USA!

Will was the scholarship recipient for the exchange programme that SRUC runs with the University of Arkansas. He spent ten weeks in Arkansas studying the effectiveness of drone technology in the agriculture sector, which will directly support his final year dissertation.

Students on mountainThe exchange is supported by the SRUC Trust which receives donations from alumni and friends. Ten 3rd year students have enjoyed this unique opportunity since 2012. Will commented:

“Having the airfares covered was great. It was one less thing to worry about and meant that I could focus my attention on my project.”

With supervision from Mike Richardson and Douglas Karcher (Arkansas Agricultural Research and Extension Centre), Will was flying drones three times a week, taking imagery of the land from the sky and putting it through a software programme to analyse colour. He was comparing colour samples from the drone verses the ‘tried and tested’ method of using a lightbox which is a ground imagery device with a camera on top which sits about a metre above the ground shutting outside light. Will is hoping to demonstrate that aerial imagery is more accurate, clearer and easier to use than a lightbox and can therefore provide better support to farmers going forward. So far his data collected is supporting his case:

“We were using herbicide and fertility treatments to try and create a big change as quickly as possible in the land. We found that the infrared data collected from the drone actually picked up a lot quicker than just through the lightbox process”

Will’s project has also given him scope for career options once he graduates. With drone technology still relatively new and something that farmers could benefit hugely from, there is a gap in the market for drone software analysing.

“It’s the software and imagery analysing that is the difficult part for the farmers. They can fly the drones, but what they really need is someone who can tell them what the infrared data means.”

However it wasn’t all work and no play in Arkansas. Will’s supervisor Douglas Karcher also insisted on a healthy work life balance and was a mad keen tennis player so there were many campus matches. He also travelled to three other states: Texas, Missouri and Memphis and advises any future exchange students to say YES to every opportunity. Arkansas also has a reputation for being one of the friendliest, politest states in the USA and Will had to get used to people calling him ‘Sir’!

Now back in Edinburgh Will confirmed that this is the first year he is actually ahead with his studies. Most students are collecting data around December and Christmas whereas Will has already finished compiling his. He now has a clear idea for his dissertation and no doubt you will see Will flying drones in a town near you very soon.

If you are interested in taking part in this exchange, Genevieve Whitson from the International Office will be taking a PAN SRUC Seminar to brief students on Thursday 9th November, from 12:40pm – 1.30pm, large seminar room, Kings Buildings, Edinburgh. Alternatively you can email or phone Genevieve to find out more: 0131 535 4427

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