LOGAN – An unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) that was designed entirely by Utah State University students is ready for flight.
The Utah Water Research Laboratory at USU recently unveiled the BluJay. Capable of flying more than 200 miles in a single trip, the battery-powered plane weighs less than 30 pounds with a full load – that includes equipment and software designed to capture aerial images for data research.
Laboratory Director Mac McKee said with all its capabilities combined, no other UAV comes close to the BluJay.
“BluJay can probably cover, I’m guessing at least three times the geographic area of its closest competitor in a single flight and with the payload that we carry,” he said. “The quality of data and the imagery we bring back is the equivalent of the best of NASA’s satellites.”
Because of their distance to the earth, McKee said top satellites will produce an image with a resolution of a pixel for every 30 by 30 meter square. Being much closer, the BluJay’s resolution will be able to capture 20 square miles with a 10 centimeter by 10 centimeter resolution. McKee said the difference is about 100,000 times more data per acre.
“This is a high quality piece of field equipment that returns incredibly high quality scientific information that just happens to be able to fly,” he said.
The BluJay is the third major rollout of the Aggie Air program in its 11-year history, and its capabilities will be a benefit to the wine industry. The E & J Gallo Winery in Northern California will be using the UAV’s software to gather data about the soil. A USU press release stated that by using the UAVs to create forecast information, irrigation efficiency will be improved.
McKee said both the Gallo Winery and the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service both contributed funding for the project.
“Its significant funding,” he said, “and we’re going to ramp us our research over vineyards in California, at least in order of magnitude form where we have been working in the last couple of years.”