When the research is done, possibly in just a couple of years, Price estimates he can put a plane in the air for around $5,000. But it’s not as simple as just buying the plane and the gizmos and starting to buzz pastures right away.

Even though the plane can fly itself with the GPS technology aboard, a human is still needed for takeoff and landing, and to occasionally take over in midflight should something go awry. “Our experience has been, almost every time we do automated flight, there’s something we need to do, take over for a moment and get back on course,” he says.

 

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And in the process of learning how to fly, he says you’re going to crash. In fact, you’re going to crash a lot. So you don’t want to train on a $5,000 plane. “Buy a $60 plane and learn with it.” To that end, Price says without the help of airplane hobbyist and KSU veterinary professor Deon van der Merwe, he and his students wouldn’t be nearly as far along as they are.

Research on applications, and the mathematical models that will enable the technology to analyze more and greater things, is ongoing. “So within the next few years — two or three, we hope — there will be a lot more people using this technology for a lot of different applications,” he says. 

 

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