Chinese drones swarm across weedy farms

XAg launch spray drones at University of Sydney field day

Machinery
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XAg demonstrated its pesticide spray drones at a University of Sydney field day - see the video

Chinese company XAg have launched a swarm of drones onto the Australian market, capable of carrying a fifteen litre chemical payload for automated on-farm spraying.

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FLYING HIGH: University of Sydney PBI director for northern agriculture Guy Roth, precision weed control scientist Guy Coleman, director of weed research Michael Walsh and XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

FLYING HIGH: University of Sydney PBI director for northern agriculture Guy Roth, precision weed control scientist Guy Coleman, director of weed research Michael Walsh and XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

Demonstrated at the IA Watson Grains Research Institute farm at Narrabri, NSW last week, the XAg drones are designed to be deployed individually or in swarms of up to five, allowing fields to be spot sprayed for weeds at about 25 hectares an hour.

Costs for each drone are likely to be about $25,000 plus the cost of an RTK base station and set up fees.

XAg product manager Charles Chow said the commercial application of pesticides by drone in China had grown exponentially.

"Drones, auto-drive systems, even tractors are a new technology in China, they jumped from the era of water buffaloes straight into drones," he said.

XAg swarm drone demonstration, IA Watson Grain Research Centre, Narrabri NSW

"The average farm size is a lot smaller than Australia, but by the end of 2017 we had just under 250,000 farms serviced, the total area is about 4.3 million hectares.

"We are in about 35 countries now, 35,000 aircraft operating just as aerial spraying units."

Mr Chow said advantages of applying pesticides by air included reduced compaction and reduced bio-security issues along with the potential for spraying in sensitive areas.

"The drift and wind tunnel testing was all done locally in Australia," he said.

"An ultra-coarse droplet at 2.5 metre release height there was no drift beyond swath under a 26 kilometre wind."

Mr Chow said along with weed spraying, the drones could be used for detection of crop ripeness or cotton boll opening to time and apply defoliation chemicals and a model capable of launching granular and seed applications was also in development.

Modular design: XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

Modular design: XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

"We are also building our own ground robots that can work together, they will have a removable payload system, it can be used as a harvester or a weed seeker or so-forth," he said.

"We are here to simplify things and build things that are specific for agricultural use."

Mr Chow said XAg's commercial partnerships included Bayer, Syngenta and Landmark, and was also working with the University of Queensland and hoped to further partner within Australia.

University of Sydney director of weed research Michael Walsh said his team was specifically focused on the development of site-specific weed control approaches, both in fallow and in crop.

"We will be evaluating all the site-specific approaches that are currently available, including XAg, looking at time constraints, logistics and overall costings of these techniques," he said.

"Hopefully a big part of the research will be tailoring inputs to in-crop situations."

University of Sydney precision weed control scientist Guy Coleman, University of Sydney IA Watson Plant Breeding Institute director of weed research Michael Walsh, University of Sydney IA Watson PBI director for northern agriculture Guy Roth and XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

University of Sydney precision weed control scientist Guy Coleman, University of Sydney IA Watson Plant Breeding Institute director of weed research Michael Walsh, University of Sydney IA Watson PBI director for northern agriculture Guy Roth and XAg Charles Chow demonstrating the spray drone.

University of Sydney IA Watson Plant Breeding Institute director for northern agriculture Guy Roth said the demonstration fit into the research farm's new DigiFarm project.

Funded by Landcare, Dr Roth said DigiFarm allowed the university to demonstrate and evaluate new technologies on farm, acting as an education platform for farmers, agribusiness, and schools to experience the latest innovations related to soil health, robotics and digital agriculture, cropping and livestock systems.

Getting big, fast

Mr Chow said XAg had essentially built its own network of RTK base stations across China to service the demand for precision agriculture technology and drone use.

"We had to build our own network, in 12 months we deployed 100,000 fixed RTK stations, to date we have about 170,000 of our own, the coverage area we have now is about the same coverage area as the Telstra Network," he said.

Mr Chow said the company, which was established in 2007, employees 14,000 workers, in the research, development and manufacturing of agricultural technology, sensors and drones as well as providing direct agricultural services.

"We work with the farmers and contractors to make sure the drones are commercially viable as well as intelligent enough to take over some of the work that needs doing," he said.

"We own and operate 5,000 aircraft with 3,500 employees that apply aerial application services

Other uses

Mr Chow said XAg also offered geo-spatial services, including mapping, contour water flow simulation and plant health monitoring through multi and hyper-spectral imagery.

"Importantly this allows us to come up with the intelligence or machine learning to use the data," he said.

"We are creating the algorithms that can automatically study the data or recognise the algorithm to supply the solution.

"A simple project we have on this is about detecting surface inversion layers, the drone captures the temperature data, it then gives green light you can spray, or a red light no you can't. This is being developed in Gatton with the University of Queensland."

Mr Chow said the company was also working with legislators and chemical companies around monitoring and quantifying pesticide chemical foot-prints.

"We also build and manufacture in-field sensors, including in-ground, in-field and in-plant sensors, soil sensors, leaf probes, climate stations and image capturing.

"We do from the ground up to low-altitude and drones, we also overlay with satellite images."

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The story Chinese drones swarm across weedy farms first appeared on Farm Online.

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