Eradicating greenhouse pests with drones


July 19, 2023

Photo: pixinoo/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Photo: pixinoo/iStock / Getty Images Plus

Researchers have recently been testing equipment to eradicate moth pests from greenhouses, including bat-inspired flying drones that hunt down and destroy moth pests from large-scale plant and crop greenhouses.

The impact of plant pests on greenhouse crops is direct and significant. Disease-causing organisms, insects and nematodes can cause serious problems in greenhouses if they are not adequately controlled because a greenhouse provides a protected environment in which pests can thrive.

The automated insect control technology, developed by PATS startup company, a Wageningen University spinoff based in The Netherlands, uses novel camera and drone technologies to optimize integrated pest management (IPM).

The camera vision recognition system (PATS-C) observes and samples a section of the airspace above crops. This infrared camera can differentiate moths from other flying insects by analyzing characteristics such as the insect’s size, speed and unique flight pattern. The cameras detect and track both pest and beneficial insect populations, saving hours of scouting, according to the article on InceptiveMind, a technology-focused media website based in India.

The gathered information is shared via the user-friendly PATS-C dashboard, which regularly alerts users of changes in population presence and development.

Insects identified as pests are then set as targets for its bat-inspired drone hunting system (PATS-X). The drones are controlled by the camera system and steered into the insects’ flight path. The propellers kill the pest on impact. After each flight, the drone returns to its charging platform. PATS-X prevents damage to crops and reduces the need for spraying rounds.

At press time, this automated solution is being planned for several kinds of greenhouse crops, including high-wire vegetables, fruits, flowers, and plants. The PATS-C is available and currently active in around 250 greenhouses across Europe. The PATS-X system is currently undergoing final testing in a variety of crops in the Netherlands and Belgium and is set to be available later this year.

Drone motors affect moth flight, too

While drones are effective at removing moths, a recent Wageningen University study reveals that the noise from drones can alter moth flight behavior. Researchers found that the drone motors produce ultrasonic noises through speakers that influence the moth’s flight behavior.

They found that the moth behaviors fell into an array of categories. The most common reaction was moths diving to the ground, causing the moths to erratically fly into the crops instead of finding a partner for reproduction. Researchers are now working this factor into the drone-control algorithms, anticipating the moths’ evasive actions as the drone approaches.

“For certain moth species, we found that this has the effect of them not even flying anymore and therefore quickly diminishing their flight activity in our systems,” Dayo Jansen, a Wageningen University doctoral student, said in the article.

“With my research, we aim to dive deep into some of the most common and harmful species in the European greenhouses and make sure our systems are ready for a tailored approach against them,” Jansen added. “We hope to illustrate the positive effect that comes from bridging the gap between biologists, engineers, and industry.”


About the Author

Ellen Wagner is a former digital editor for PMP magazine.

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