Aerobotics, a South African precision agriculture tech company, have launched their new drone scouting app which is able to see whatever a human, standing close to a tree, would - and come to the same conclusions.
James Paterson, co-founder and CEO of Aerobotics
The company's agronomists have labeled and classified hundreds of thousands of examples of potato blight and citrus thrips and fed this information into their machine learning algorithms, enabling them to learn what pest and disease symptoms look like, just as a person would.
“Our agronomists have assembled one of the most detailed databases of its kind in the world,” said Michael Malahe, Aerobotics data science manager. “We have achieved a precision of 80 to 90% and we're looking forward to rolling out this predictive ability to a wider range of crops.”
Employing obstacle-avoidance technology, drones now go within one metre of the target to collect data at sub-millimetre level. Pests like bud mites and thrips, nutritional deficiencies or toxicities, as well as close-ups of flower and fruit formation are visible on the images taken by the drone's multispectral camera, which would also enable more accurate crop estimates.
“We believe this new technology will change the way that data is collected in the field,” said James Paterson, Aerobotics CEO, who grew up on a citrus farm and obtained a postgraduate degree in aeronautical engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The more data we collect, the more powerful the algorithms become.”
James Paterson, left, and Michael Malahe during the launch, demonstrating the AI app's diagnostic ability
Auto-generated scouting routes
With the Aerobotics software Aeroview and their scouting app Aeroview Scout, a farmer's time in the field is maximised. Their artificial intelligence software is, uniquely, able to design drone scouting routes within an orchard or a field by itself, automatically detecting problems on a tree-by-tree basis. The design of the routes is based on the results of previous flights. The scout route is conveyed to the farmer's phone, sending him or her straight to the trouble spots.
The cameras can penetrate netting that is not too dark, but the closed growth systems of table grapes are not currently conducive to drone scouting (wine vineyards, however, present no problem).
There are currently 500 farmers in 11 countries employing their technology. In South Africa's macadamia industry about 40% of producers and a fifth of South African citrus growers use Aerobotics.
The company is expanding worldwide, particularly to the US citrus industry which is facing a grave problem with HLB. They also have a presence in Kenya, Mozambique, Spain, Australia and the UK.
For more information:
South Africa: +27 21 035 1060
United States: +1 772 584 9762