When you think about all the times you told your kids to put down the controller and go outside and play it was for a good reason. Lately, they haven't been pushed outside. They want to go outside and play with their drone. And the latest drones aren't just for kids. Although you may need one to operate it.

According to the South Dakota School of Mines students are working on drone technology that could potentially protect lives and impact the agriculture industry and beyond.

The students have developed drones that fly together like a flock or swarm of birds without any manual control. Each drone is about the size of a dinner plate measuring 10 inches wide and has a thermal camera and sensors that detect nitrogen levels in fertilizer. Farmers would use the drones as a unit to more evenly disperse nutrients on fields.

"They actually work on the hardware and also the software that's going to make them more intelligent. So our students are actually doing cutting edge research with our faculty experts to take these drones to the next level," said Magesh Rajan, who leads the university's Electrical and Computer Engineering Department.

The university said the technology could also be used for cell tower work. Instead of sending a person to climb several hundred feet up to fix a problem, the drones could fly up and analyze what needed to be repaired, according to Electrical and Computer Engineering Assistant Professor Shankarachary Ragi.

He noted such inspections occur regularly, and that some of the work could be automated without creating safety concerns.

Ragi said AT&T is interested in using the drones for the company's thousands of cell towers.

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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