New crop spraying drone on the horizon

Instead of a panel of spraying nozzles, this one has a single outlet whose spray jets straight into the heart of the matter.

The sixteen-litre Oryctes drone – a latest offering on the precision agriculture landscape – was premiered yesterday in Malaysia, to offer a lasting solution for oil palm farmers who have seen their crops whither at the deathly kiss of the oryctes rhinoceros beetle for which the drone was named.

Reported to be rapidly gaining hectarage across West and Central Africa (and, according to environmentalists, at the cost of natural rainforests and the habitat they provide), the oil palm tree fruits produce palm oil and palm kernels, which can be further refined to produce cooking oil and many other products.

The trees are, however, under threat from the bane of the oryctes rhinoceros beetle, which likes to feed on the juicy fronds of young oil palms.

But the Oryctes drone is set to put an end to the oryctes beetle via some specially targeted spraying. The drone was designed engineered to potentially destroy its namesake pest through the application of pesticide directly onto oil palm crowns to protect growing shoots, which are particularly vulnerable to beetle attacks.

The Oryctes beetle

The direct spraying will also do away with the need for manual spraying which exposes workers to strong chemicals for prolonged periods of time.

“The innovation behind Oryctes lies in artificial intelligence (AI) algorithms which enable the drone to identify and precisely target the centres of palms through an automated process,” says Cheong Jin Xi, founder and CEO of Poladrone, the Malaysian company that made the Oryctes. “First, an aerial mapping drone surveys the land and captures high resolution images; then, Airamap, an AI software analyses the image data to identify palms, and prepares the flight routes; finally, the information is transmitted to Oryctes for it to carry out automatic spraying along the planned flight paths.”

Although the battery system for the drone needs to be changed manually, Xi said the Oryctes can spray between two and three hectares per hour and also comes with customisable spray mechanisms, depending on the type of crops to be sprayed.

“Spot mode is ideal for oil palm; and mist mode is better suited for field crops such as paddy,” Xi says. “When developing Oryctes, we intentionally designed it as an entry point to farming automation for local farmers and planters.”

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