Student helps develop drone-based company

Seth Oren and David Hille

Seth Oren, a junior agriculture and technology education major at the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, has helped to expand a branch of the agriculture technology company Crop Search into his hometown of Edgerton, Wisconsin. There are two other Crop Search locations in Okeechobee, Florida, and Vermillion, Ohio.

Crop Search was founded in 2018 by David Hille. According to the website, Hille has been involved in the agriculture industry for his entire life. After working with Eric Jackson, who has an education in plant science, Hille came up with the idea to use drones for crop scouting.

Crop Search is a tech-based company that strives to assist “growers, producers, and end users maximize yields of the highest quality products with the smallest environmental impact.”

In July 2018, Oren met with some coworkers together to talk about how to create technology to make scouting crops easier and more efficient. The team started by using a drone that you could buy over the counter to see what they could do with it.

“We found out that this was not going to work. We decided we could either cut our losses or build our own. And we decided to build our own,” Oren said.

Oren explained that the company uses original 3D-printed drones and cameras to scout the fields with higher accuracy. The team has built back-end software using artificial intelligence and deep-machine learning to take pictures of the fields and analyze what is going on.

Oren said that the drones can count the exact number of crops within a field, and this helps growers get more insight on what they need to do to continue with a healthy grow (i.e. fertilizers or herbicides).

Currently, Oren severs as the lead crop scout, where he assists in incorporating drones, cameras and AI into crop scouting. Scouting crops, according to Oren, means that throughout the duration of the growing season, individuals will check the fields and crops to analyze what needs to be to make it the healthiest yield possible.

Though Oren has been a crop scout for about three years and has worked with over 100,000 acres of crops, he does not believe that titles are an important factor to his work.

“I don’t believe in titles because I think when you have a title, you start to begin to think you don’t have to do a certain duty. That is one of the big things I really like that we don’t use titles,” Oren said. “General Manager is probably the closest thing you could call me, but I don’t like that. I still fly drones. I am no different than a pilot, and I think it is important to be able to immerse myself in the same work that I am telling other people they need to get done.”

Oren explained that the drones use three cameras to take images of the fields, and the images are tied in with analytics to supply feedback reports to the land owners. One of the many unique benefits of using the drones to scout the fields is that the drone can see 100% of the field. This helps to increase the precision of the results, and it also helps ensure the sustainability of the crops.

Oren said that one of the many benefits to having the new Crop Search location in Edgerton is that the company can easily hire UW-Platteville students. Crop Search has a booth at UW-Platteville’s Career Fair, and Oren recently hired four UW-Platteville students: Mark Runde, Sam Oftedahl, Noah Hatch and Eric Engman. Each hire will become licensed to fly the drones, and they will be able to apply their specific skill sets to assist in growing the company.

“We are invested in finding the interests of our team. We want them to have a say in what it is they are doing with the company,” Oren said.