This month’s dronepreneur, Sergio Rodríguez, is a true Spanish pioneer whose young company, SmartRural, is spearheading the use of UAV technology in the country’s agriculture and wine making industries.
1. Hi Sergio. Could you tell us a little about your journey into the world of drones. When, how and why did you first start thinking about and then using this technology?
Sure. We started to consider using drones only a short time ago. After many years working in the field of telecommunications we wanted to do something else, something different, so we started to think about a new project.
As the agriculture sector is very important in Spain, particularly in our region, Castilla y León, it came to our mind to connect this field with new technologies and innovation, so why not do this with drones? We headed to France to learn from precision agriculture professionals who are very experienced with drones [Airinov], then at the beginning of 2015 we set up SmartRural.
As the agriculture sector is very important in Spain, particularly in Castilla y León, it came to our mind to connect this field with new technologies and innovation
The first year or two are usually the most difficult for entrepreneurs, but we believe we are working well, making progress and playing an active role in the area of precision agriculture, particularly with the use of drones. This is something that is completely new in Spain.
2. Can you tell us about one of your favorite or most challenging drone projects? What made this stand out and what did you learn?
Sure. The project took place in the Pago de Carraovejas vineyard in the province of Valladolid. We were there in August 2015, when the grapevines started to ripen. We flew our eBee Ag drone to measure water stress and to check the ripeness of the grapevines.
Pago de Carraovejas used to use satellite imagery for this job, but this time they wanted to try working with a drone—to check whether its data was better or not—and they discovered that it was. The drone, with a multispectral camera onboard and also capable of collecting thermal imaging, achieves much higher quality and more precise results than those obtained with satellite imagery.
The drone … achieves much higher quality and more precise results than those obtained with satellite imagery
We flew about 200 hectares in one day and then wrote a complete report of our results and findings.
Explore SmartRural’s Pago de Carraovejas project SlideShare:
3. What impact would you say drone technology has had on your working life?
Perhaps the first thing we realised is that people (and media) pay more attention to you because of drone technology. When we go to a trade fair or event, we notice that many people come to our stand to take a look at the drone and ask about it because it is something new and innovative.
Some people even remembered us from previous events, mainly because of the drone, which is something great—to start to become a part of the market and have potential clients already know you!
An example of SmartDrone’s Spanish media coverage:
Regarding precision agriculture, the drone is an ideal tool because it can do the data collection work we need, easily and quickly, although it is important to remember too that the subsequent interpretation of the data the drone collects is also an essential part of our job. Related to this, we are cooperating with several Spanish universities, especially regarding image processing. For example, we worked with the University of Ponferrada (León) regarding chestnut blight, a disease which affects this kind of tree. There we used the eBee Ag to fly 70 hectares and identify the sick chestnuts in the León area.
4. What kind of role do you see drone technology playing in the future for companies such as SmartRural? Can you imagine what your working life might look several years down the line?
The regulations regarding drones were only put into place in Spain in 2014, so now it’s a bit difficult because there isn’t a large enough market yet. However, several studies and articles published on specialised blogs and in magazines have confirmed that drones will play an important role in the country’s agriculture sector in the near future. Our experience so far makes us believe that this is true and encourages us to go on.
In November last year we received an award that recognised us as the most innovative company in our region, so we have to keep on making efforts to grow in the next few years, with the hard work and humility that entrepreneurs—in our case ‘dronepreneurs’—need to succeed.
5. If you could give 3 tips to a budding dronepreneur of the future, what would they be?
- Take advantage of the drone to appear in the media. We contacted several media telling them what we do and consequently we have appeared in the Spanish press, on radio and TV. This exposure helps people (and potential customers) get to know you!
Take advantage of the drone to appear in the media
- Strengthen your website and your activity on social media. And go to trade fairs and events to promote your services. This is essential at the beginning, requiring money and time.
- If you still have doubts after considering it, take the risk—you never know what can happen.
Thanks so much for your time Sergio!
Industries served: agriculture, viticulture
Drones: senseFly eBee Ag
Software: ArcGIS, other GIS, Pix4Dmapper
Avg. flights per month: 18
Total flight hours: 150 hours
Dream robot: a drone that can fly in all weathers