Remote control chopper monitors crops from above

TAMARA LUSH - Associated Press
June 17, 2011
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In this photo taken June 9, 2011 in Lake Alfred, Fla., University of Florida citrus researcher Reza Ehsani stands near a remote control helicopter. The device is fitted with a camera and is used to monitor crops from the air. (AP Photo/Tamara Lush)

LAKE ALFRED, Florida (AP) — University of Florida researchers are turning remote-controlled toy helicopters into high-tech monitoring devices for citrus and other crops.

The researchers equip the helicopters with cameras, then buzz them over the trees and fields. They then take high-resolution photos that can spot diseases and problems with watering.

The helicopters are being used to monitor other crops in Oregon, Nebraska and Arkansas and even Malaysia. They cost between $3,000 (euro2,129)and $20,000, depending on the chopper's size and sophistication of its camera.

The researchers say that for most U.S. farmers, their equipment is better than full-sized helicopters and fixed-wing airplanes flown by human pilots.

They say those are too costly. They also say the photos aren't crisp because the full-sized helicopters can't get close to the crops.