Oregon drone maker announces sales agreement with Papé Machinery

An Oregon company that makes agricultural drones links up with a major equipment dealer.
Eric Mortenson

Capital Press

Published on January 11, 2016 1:22PM

Last changed on January 12, 2016 10:26AM

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press
HoneyComb Corp. employees Steve Caldwell, left, and Ben Howard, the chief technical officer, show an AgDrone at the company’s headquarters in Wilsonville, Ore. The blue tape on the wing indicates the drone has been sold to a customer in Argentina.

Eric Mortenson/Capital Press HoneyComb Corp. employees Steve Caldwell, left, and Ben Howard, the chief technical officer, show an AgDrone at the company’s headquarters in Wilsonville, Ore. The blue tape on the wing indicates the drone has been sold to a customer in Argentina.

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Eric Mortenson/Capital PressYellow lines indicate the flight pattern programmed for a HoneyComb AgDrone at work on a farm in Uganda.

Eric Mortenson/Capital PressYellow lines indicate the flight pattern programmed for a HoneyComb AgDrone at work on a farm in Uganda.

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WILSONVILLE, Ore. — HoneyComb Corp., which in four years has gone from startup tech company to marketing its agricultural drones internationally, has announced that Papé Machinery will begin selling its system in the Pacific Northwest.

The agreement puts HoneyComb’s AgDrone system in 21 Papé equipment dealerships in Oregon, Washington, Idaho and California beginning Jan. 25.

Papé also carries John Deere tractors, combines and other equipment.

HoneyComb Marketing Director Steve Caldwell said Papé personnel will be able to train farmers in using the drone system. The AgDrone is a 5-pound, battery-powered plane with a 5-foot wingspan that can be trucked to a field and launched by hand. The delta-winged drone carries visual and infrared cameras encased in a Kevlar exoskeleton that company officials say is extremely durable.

Advocates believe drone technology could transform agriculture. Flying over fields in patterns set by the operators, they can spot irrigation, fertilizer or pest problems and upload the exact location to farmers. Drones also could take inventory and assess yield. Drone data can be downloaded to other equipment using programs currently available, and industry backers believe drones eventually will communicate in real-time with other machinery.

Caldwell, the HoneyComb marketer, said farmers’ adoption of precision ag technology such as auto-steer and variable rate equipment has accelerated, and drone use is likely to follow. He said the percentage of farmers using drones — either ones they fly themselves or ones operated by agronomic service companies — could climb into double digits in 2016.

“If it blows over 20 percent it would not shock me,” Caldwell said.

The complete AgDrone system sells for about $21,000. The price includes the drone, case, spare parts and HoneyComb’s data processing service.

There is concern in ag circles about “Big Data” and who controls the information collected by precision ag equipment. Caldwell said only the drone buyer will own the data and have access to it.

The company sells stepped-down versions of the AgDrone kit for about $10,000 or $13,000, but Caldwell said those prices don’t include extras such as data processing.

What appealed to Papé was that the AgDrone was “purpose built,” designed specifically for agriculture. The data it gathered could be imported directly into the management tools aboard John Deere equipment.

“It’s not a toy,” said Barry Peterson, Papé’s integrated solutions manager.

In addition, HoneyComb’s AgDrone is a fixed-wing aircraft, more stable than competing quad copters, Peterson said. It was the only drone at a Papé field test that carried twin cameras and could provide two images of the same area. It also provided faster data processing than competitors.

“They get it,” Peterson said. “That’s the one thing about HoneyComb we like. They understand how important this data is.

“There’s no better tool than to have same-day information,” he said. “If you have a problem, you can get on it right away.”

HoneyComb (http://www.honeycombcorp.com) was started by CEO Ryan Jenson and friends Ben Howard and John Faus, all of whom grew up in small Oregon towns. They began business in start-up space at Portland State University and two years ago moved to office, design and manufacturing space in Wilsonville, 20 miles south of Portland.

From the start, HoneyComb has positioned its drones for agricultural use, figuring farmers would be early commercial adopters of the technology.

With the Federal Aviation Administration slow to approve rules for drone use, HoneyComb has sought out buyers in Ecuador, Argentina, Uganda and other areas of Central America, South America and Africa.

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A story about HoneyComb and its founders appeared in the Capital Press in 2014: http://www.capitalpress.com/article/20140109/ARTICLE/140109878



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