Drones are everywhere these days–killing things, monitoring things, mapping things, planting things. Now, here’s another use for them: pest control.
Michael Godfrey, an agricultural science student at the University of Queensland, in Australia, has developed a flying vehicle that spreads a beneficial bug, the Californicus mite. By sending down the insects to a field of crops, he claims to be able to kill other, unwanted bugs and save plenty of time and money in the process.
“The idea [is] to use natural predators or diseases to control agricultural pests. [We can] mitigate chemical use, which is not only harmful for the environment but also costly,” he says in an email.
The hexacopter drone is 5.5 pounds including batteries. It has a box with a small motor connected to a spinner that turns out the mites. Godfrey, who first developed the concept as a summer scholarship project, plots the drone’s route using free Mission Planner software.
“The bugs come in small cylinders with vermiculite as a medium. Spreading them around a five hectare field is just time consuming and dull. The drone can cover a field that size in less than 15 minutes,” he says.
Godfrey is currently doing more testing at a farm near the university’s Gatton campus. He’s fixing an infrared camera to the bottom of the drone, so he can compare fields that have been treated with the insects and ones that haven’t. If the drone-controlled fields exhibit more crop biomass, he’ll know his method is working.