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Moth-killing drone hunts and destroys unwanted insects in Dutch greenhouses

Moth-killing drone hunts and destroys unwanted insects in greenhouses

Moth control is a high priority for Dutch greenhouse growers because of the damage the caterpillars cause to the crop. Sure, you can address this problem with pesticides, but that is not the preferred method for various reasons. The Dutch company PATS is developing a unique solution in the form of moth-killing drones.

Moth-killing drone hunts and destroys unwanted insects in Dutch greenhouses

Normally, up to ten percent of the crop in a greenhouse can be thrown away as a result of a moth infestation. This is because moths lay their eggs between the flowers or plants. The caterpillars that come out eat the crop, making them unsaleable. This problem does not only affect flower growers: the same applies to growers of vegetable crops.

That should be possible, thought the founders of PATS, a startup with roots in TU Delft. The company’s mission is to use drones for insect control. This is achieved by sending a “mechanical bat” in the form of a micro-drone at an insect or moth and grinding it to pieces. The result: moth confetti.

The name PATS is not an abbreviation for “precise aerial targeting system” or anything like that. “Our initial idea was to destroy mosquitoes with the help of drones. When coming up with a company name, we had to think about the sound a fly swatter makes when you kill a mosquito: bang! Hence this name,” explains co-founder and CEO Bram Tijmons.

The moment the drone hits a moth: PATS!
The moment the drone hits a moth: PATS!

Indoor navigation

The team has developed a special camera system to direct a small drone to a moth quickly and precisely. The camera provides a precise location of the moth, and the three-dimensional coordinates of the drone during the flight are also determined by the camera.

“To keep the drone weight and costs low, we use a separate camera and computer system that controls the drone. With this we circumvent the indoor navigation problem, but more importantly, this camera system pays for itself because we offer it as a monitoring platform: PATS-C. The grower can thus see, among other things, that there is a plague, sometimes weeks before he sees it with manual “scouting”. As a final piece, we supply the “mechanical bat” that prevents this problem without resorting to additional pesticides,” explains CTO Kevin van Hecke explains.

The camera system developed by PATS
The camera system developed by PATS

Minimal impact

The advantage of the “mechanical bat” is the minimal impact on the processes in the greenhouse. The system is also safe for humans. This is because the drone is kept as small and light as possible.

Van Hecke: “Maneuverability is the key to getting rid of a moth. The smaller the drone, the more maneuverable. As a result, the impact of our drone in the greenhouse is negligible. Not only is cultivation not harmed by drone downwash, for example, our drones are also safe for people, just like TinyWhoops, and the grower does not have to worry about it because they are autonomous. As a company, we now operate hundreds of fully autonomous flights every day.”

Test setup

PATS has now built a successful test setup in a greenhouse in Westland. In principle, the system works at night, because the moths are then active. As soon as a moth is detected by a camera, the system will send a drone towards the insect. As soon as the moth has been ground to pieces, the drone automatically returns. Each flight only takes a few seconds: that’s how fast it goes.

As soon as the test phase has been completed, PATS wants to commercialize the system.

Tijmons: “This is planned for the first half of 2021. There is already a lot of demand for our solution from the cultivation sector. A world is really opening up for us.”

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This article first appeared on Dronewatch.nl and is written by Wiebe de Jager who is also a DroneXL contributor.

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Wiebe de Jager

Wiebe de Jager (@wdejager) is the founder of Dronewatch and author of several bestselling books about drone photography. Wiebe is a certified drone pilot and has a full ROC license.

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