Batman drones are the new allies of agronomists in the fight against pests
How biologists and engineers solved the main problem of agriculture
Insect pests are serious damage to crops. How to deal with them without chemistry and harm to plants? Recently, the technology company PATS proposed an interesting solution – PATS-X drones that recognize and destroy harmful insects.
Drones were originally developed by one of the co-founders of the startup PATS. As an experiment, he came up with a mechanism to help get rid of annoying mosquitoes that prevented him from sleeping. The idea formed the basis of a project to control moths and other pests in large-scale greenhouses.
“We want to create a system that works autonomously and efficiently without requiring human intervention,” says Dayo Jansen, a PhD student at Wageningen University in the Netherlands.
The PATS system consists of two components: PATS-C and PATS-X. The first is a network of infrared cameras placed throughout the greenhouse and connected to the Internet. They track insects flying over plants and, using artificial intelligence, determine their species by the size and frequency of their wing beats. If the insect is useful for crops (for example, a bee), it is left alone. If a pest is found, PATS-X comes into play.
PATS-X is a squad of small quadcopters that charge at wireless docking stations. When PATS-C detects a pest, it will activate the drone and direct it towards the target. The device crashes into an insect at high speed, and then returns to the station.
It turned out that drones not only catch moths, but also influence their behavior with their noise. Dayo Jansen’s study showed that the sound of drones causes insects to change their flight path. “After careful analysis, we found that drones produce ultrasound in the same range as bats, the enemies of moths in their natural environment,” says the scientist. “Some insects ignore the noise and die quickly, but for those who are scared, we amplify the sound with speakers, creating an environment in which the moths can no longer move around.”
Thus, PATS applies not only physical impact, but also ultrasonic impact for pest control.
According to the company, the PATS-C system is already used by European enterprises, with about 250 greenhouses installed. So far, the cameras only collect information about insect species and their numbers, then send it to PATS clients for analysis. PATS-X is still being tested and should be on the market by the end of 2023.
“In our study, we aim to study Europe’s most common greenhouse pests and make sure our systems are ready to deal with them individually,” concludes Jansen. “We hope to demonstrate a positive effect as a result of the collaboration of biologists, engineers and representatives of agriculture.”