Ever since his senior year of high school in Sugar Land, Marwan Madi saw the potential for “precision agriculture” using drones that can detect the health or stress of vegetation.
Now an engineering junior at UT, he is putting this idea to use as a co-founder of the drone services startup Maverick Labs. The university recently allowed him to try out the technology on the thirstiest part of campus, the lawn in front of the LBJ Library. Those results are not in yet, but he thinks the savings in water consumption could be significant.
Marwan now has an opportunity to apply this technology on a bigger scale. A chance encounter last year with a cotton and corn farmer led to an invitation to try out the technology on farms around El Campo, on the coastal plains southwest of Houston. These proof-of-concept flights mean numerous trips to the area for Marwan and his business partner, when Marwan is not in class pursuing an electrical and computer engineering degree.
These drones use multispectral sensors that calculate the ratio of visible light to near-infrared light. This sophisticated sensor can even detect weeds and tell the farmer what kind of weeds they are.
The technology already exists. Marwan’s innovation comes in providing that coordinated service. “Not only do you have to purchase the drone, you have to purchase the software and the sensor, and have an FAA certification.”
“What we’re predicting and what the data show so far is we are going to be able to save farmers a lot of money on chemicals and fertilizers as well as water,” says Marwan. “Margins are very small in farming. They need all the help they can get.” The margins are small, but the economic impact to Texas of the food and fiber sector totals more than $100 billion annually.
“It’s been a great experience so far, and I’m looking forward to what we can do with this new service,” Marwan says. So are Texas farmers.