Crop analytics drone company Raptor Maps took the $100,000 grand prize May 13 at the 25th annual MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition.
The team of three MIT aerospace engineers developed an analytics platform that employs unmanned aircraft to pinpoint crop damage, target pesticide use, and increase yields.
For some startups, a $100,000 prize and the cache of winning a top business plan contest can boost an idea toward acquiring capital to get up and running. For Raptor Maps, the low cost of the drones means the prize money can equip the company to begin serving paying clients almost immediately.
“The money will go to building the analytics platform for scale operations,” said Nikhil Vadhavkar, executive at Raptor Maps, and a PhD student in the Harvard-MIT Division of Health Sciences and Technology. “We can get three or four aircraft and establish a beachhead in the market. Because we can build so cheaply, this is exactly the boost we need.”
Raptor Maps was born far from the agricultural fields it seeks to serve. Team members were part of a NASA geological field mission last summer and determined that satellite imagery was “not cutting it. Drones can do it better,” said Vadhavkar. Satellites are too far away, he said, and the current dominant method of crop evaluation—walking—is too close to cover more than a small portion of acreage in a day.
Raptor Maps’ drones strike a useful middle ground. They can survey entire farms with high-resolution imagery, use proprietary analytics to pinpoint problem areas, such as infestations, and target chemical applications. The team hopes to increase yields in an industry anxious to both decrease chemical use due to environmental concerns and save more of the estimated one-third of crops that are lost each year to bugs and disease.
The Latest on: Crop evaluation drones
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The Latest on: Crop evaluation drones
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