Wanted: Skilled drone pilots

Operators needed for project that analyses health of tree crops from air

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Calling all drone pilots.
That was the summons from data analytics company Aerobotics, the Cape Townbased global innovator which swooped into Port Elizabeth for an unusual drones in agriculture presentation this week.
About 40 interested, aspirant and operational drone pilots gathered at Old Grey Club for the meeting on Wednesday where they heard about the exciting potential in the field in the Eastern Cape in areas such as the Gamtoos Valley and the Langkloof.
Aerobotics strategic projects manager Jan-Dirk Brak said the company specialised in analysing the health of tree crops and drones fitted with the company’s specialised cameras were needed to gather the source data.
“We fly the drones 80m100m above the trees and capture images of the leaves.
“Our visual and multispectral cameras have very good zoom capability and high megapixels so, we get all the detail we need.”
Importantly, the multispectral capability of the camera, allowing it to capture data visible through multiple light spectrums, identified the chlorophyll level in the leaves, and this data was then analysed.
“It’s all in what the leaf tells us. The information identifies the stress in a particular tree and allows us to analyse the factors behind its condition.
“This might be a pest problem, disease, a mineral deficiency or simply a water issue.”
The data and analysis, together with a virtual “scout map” pinpointing the exact position of the ailing trees, was then sent to the farmer via the company’s Aeroview web application, he said.
And then, armed with this information, the farmer could engage with his irrigation and other agri-partners to address the problems. “But it all starts with the capture of the data and for that we need to identify and partner with a corps of reliable drone pilots.”
To this end Aerobotics had embarked on a roadshow around the country to explain the technology and the opportunity available.
“We are working with finance and insurance houses to make it easier for aspirant drone pilots to buy the hardware.”
Aerobotics has signed a partnership with the Humansdorp Co-operative, making Aeroview available to the cooperative’s 1,300 member farmers, and was already working with two drone pilots in the Eastern Cape, he said.
“But we need eight to 10 more to cover the projects we’ve already got lined up.”
Aerobotics was co-founded by James Paterson, a farmer’s son from Citrusdal who went on to major in mechatronics at the University of Cape Town, and Imperial College of London neurotechnology masters graduate Benji Meltzer.
The company was uniquely positioned, Brak said.
“There is no-one else doing our level of analysis and particular tree crop health focus working in the sector globally and our aim is to expand to Portugal, Spain, Australia and the United States in the next two to three months.”

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