Drones could soon mean big savings for the North Carolina agriculture industry, reports Mike Gonzalez for WNCN News in Raleigh, NC..

Developed by Raleigh-based PrecisionHawk, the company's unmanned aerial vehicle is changing the way data is collected in the sky.

With a wing span of 4 feet wide and a weight of just 3 pounds, the UAV is a flying, high-tech computer. Its on-board visual sensor can snap aerial imagery at one sub-pixel per centimeter, and can also depict images in hundreds of bands of light exposing problem areas not visible to the human eye.

What that means for farmers is the drone can find areas on a farm where soil is too wet or too dry, or even where a fungus is affecting the crop an how much nitrogen is in a crop.

"We are different at PrecisionHawk because we take those images and information from various sensors we have aboard the platform and start to make use of that data," explained business development director Tyler Collins.

He explained that information can be used by seed companies to build "out into a scalable solution" that can be rolled out "to all of their farmers and make decision based on the data we're collecting."

Currently the FAA does not allow UAVs and drones to be used or sold for commercial use. So PrecisionHawk is partnering with North Carolina State University to use its drones for the university's research needs.

"The different science departments … can actually take the data and use the data within the research that they've already been conducting to figure out what these end applications are how to get to these end applications," Collins said.

Collins said the university's use of the drones keeps the company out of legal troubles while also benefiting PrecisionHawk as well as N.C. State.

"We are able to come out legally with the FAA; and institutions like N.C. State can conduct the research on the data that we're collecting," Collins said.

Collins pointed out that the UAVs uses go beyond agriculture and the planes can also be used in emergency situations. He said the company was able to help following the Oso mudslide in Washington in March.

"Our technology was invited out by the emergency response so we can conduct the search in a much safer manner," Collins said.

PrecisionHawk recently closed a $10 million investment round with Bob Young, the founder of Red Hat. Young said he believes in the technology because it performs data collection that farmers currently can't get on their own.