Japan develops a drone to patrol farmland and destroy insect pests

Agriculture-focused drones aren't new, but this one -- unlike others -- does its job completely autonomously.

Adam Bolton
Adam Bolton is a contributor for CNET based in Japan. He is, among things, a volunteer, a gamer, a technophile and a beard grower. He can be found haunting many of Tokyo's hotspots and cafes.
Adam Bolton
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Agriculture is a massively important industry in Japan -- so naturally, bugs and other pests can be a bit of a problem. A joint project between Saga University and IT firm OPTiM is using drone technology to help fight the good fight.

They developed the Agri Drone to reduce the use of pesticides through the application of drones. Primarily used at night, it utilises infrared and thermal cameras to shoot targeted doses of pesticides where insects are congregating in harmful numbers. As it's a targeted shot, the idea is the drone greatly reduces plants' over-exposure to pesticide.

The Agri Drone has recently been successfully put through its paces in test runs, guarding both soy and potato crops in the Saga prefecture. It was successful in seeking out and destroying 50 different types of pest, including midges and moths.

If spraying chemicals is something that farmers wish to avoid, the Agri Drone comes with another option in tackling insects in the form of a suspended bug zapper. The drone can be assigned the task of delivering a glowing, insect-enticing electric payload to the points at which the pests are congregating.

Although agricultural drones aren't a new idea, few of the current drones available are used for directly combating pests with targeted attacks. Many of the existing drones also require a level of manual control in conjunction with mounted cameras. Agri Drone is capable of fully autonomous patrol and targeting.

Given the potential risks of contamination by pesticides and the ongoing debate as to the effects on the ecosystem, many farmers are struggling with the need to keep crops safe from destruction to ensure a good harvest while making sure as to not contaminate soil. Saga University's hope is that the Agri Drone will provide that middle ground.

While the project is advancing well, with its first tests out of the way, the developers are further refining the efficiency at targeting different crops and insects. With rice being a major staple of diet in Japan, the primary targets for the drone are the insects that particularly damage rice fields. With its current testing out of the way, it looks like farmland pests may just have a new nemesis.