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Technology

Drone Drops Beneficial Bugs Onto Corn Fields

Drone360By Carl EngelkingApril 21, 2015 1:05 AM

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A University of Queensland agricultural student has built a drone that will bug you for all the right reasons. Michael Godfrey’s drone is fitted with a hopper that airdrops beneficial insects over crops, potentially saving farmers time and money. Godfrey’s innovation is yet another way in which drones are proving to be trusty laborers on the farmstead.

Bugs from Above

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Godfrey's drone delivers a treatment of beneficial mites to a cornfield in Australia.(Ausveg and Vegetables Australia) During a summer science scholarship, Godfrey wanted to see how drones could be used to distribute the beneficial Californicus mite onto crops ravaged by two-spotted spider mites. Spider mites feed on the undersides of leaves, eventually killing the plant or reducing its yield potential. Crop losses attributed to spider mites can be significant, especially during hot, dry seasons — something Australians are all too familiar with lately. Fortunately, Californicus mites love to eat spider mites. To solve this problem, Godfrey constructed a drone specifically designed for the task of spreading bugs. The props and the size of the motors were built to carry and distribute its bug payload at a test farm. Godfrey used corrugated plastic to construct the bug hopper attachment. The hopper’s lightweight design allows more bugs to be transported with each pass over a field. A mechanized seed spreader on the hopper ensures the bugs are evenly distributed. The drone helps overcome a big obstacle: As corn grows, it becomes more difficult to navigate the fields on foot to spread the beneficial bugs. Godfrey has proven that his drone can spread the bugs, and the next step is to evaluate how effective the treatment is. One of the last kinks to work out, Godfrey says, is to control the volume of bugs being dropped.

Old McDonald Had a Drone

Drones are perfect for covering a lot of territory in a short period of time, so they’re a natural fit on sprawling farms. PrecisionHawk, a drone manufacturer from North Carolina, is on the forefront of building agricultural drones. Their machines can help farmers take a variety of high-definition photographs to diagnose the health of their fields — avoiding costly manned flyovers. Drones are also watering fields, planting trees, spraying precise treatments of pesticides and even herding sheep. You can see a more in-depth look at how drones are changing agriculture in the first issue of Drone 360, which is available online and on newsstands now.

Top photo credit: kostrez/Shutterstock

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