James Ihaka

James Ihaka is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Sky's the limit in farm technology

Drone allows farmers to use a computer to keep an eye on paddocks from the comfort of their home.

Flight engineer Coenraad Brand and director Linda Bulk with their Ag Monster. Photo / Christine Cornege
Flight engineer Coenraad Brand and director Linda Bulk with their Ag Monster. Photo / Christine Cornege

An aerial robot armed with live-feed cameras that can monitor farms while the owner is at home enjoying a cup of tea is being tipped as a gadget that could get city-slickers back to the country.

Raglan firm Droidworx is promoting its aerial robotic airframes at the Innovation Centre at this year's Fieldays in Mystery Creek, Hamilton.

The drones are being offered as an alternative for farmers to getting on their quad bikes and driving around their properties to check out the lie of the land.

Droidworx director Linda Bulk said: "A farmer can have a cup of tea in the kitchen while their robot flies around the paddocks checking out their livestock, fences and things like that and there's a live feed sent to a screen so they can see it all happening.

"Or you can just set GPS co-ordinates for it and let it go ... it saves a farmer a lot of time and it can get them to difficult-to-access places on their property, safely."

Ms Bulk said the airframes - which are like battery-powered radio-controlled helicopters - are already in use on film sets and in sports TV.

But her company is expanding their uses to agricultural applications.

She said 95 per cent of Japanese crop farms were using this technology to spray crops. The devices can fly in the rain for up to 40 minutes.

"It's a lot cheaper than crop-dusting."

While the technology is not cheap - entry-level airframes cost about $7500 - Ms Bulk sees potential for them as a way of getting tech-savvy youngsters interested in farming.

"It's quite a new thing - farmers are definitely not using these because they are prototypes ... but they will definitely be used widely by farmers.

"Particularly for the younger generation - it's a bit of an issue with them not being interested in taking over the farm but this could be the technology that could get them interested in farming again."

Today, a judging panel will select 10 commercially viable innovations competing at the event in a Dragon's Den-like scenario to present to potential investors ready to put money into agricultural industries.

Fieldays chief executive Jon Calder said the quality of innovation this year was higher than ever.

"It's something we have never done before and it creates a path to market for New Zealand innovators."


Rural reinventions

Some of the clever innovations on display at Fieldays

Clever Ape: Device which sends a text message to a farm owner when drinking trough water levels get low.

Kindling cracker: A splitter welded into a metal plate. A user can safely make kindling by placing a piece of wood on it and hitting it with a mallet. Designed by a 13-year-old girl.

Aerial robots: Armed with cameras and spraying machines, the robots can fly over farms and send live feeds back to the farmer's computer or iPhone.

Bird stop: Stops birds getting into water tanks through overflow pipes. Uses a ballcock, sinker and string. Designed by a 12-year-old boy.

Gudgeon Pro 4 in 1: A fencing tool used for the quick and accurate hanging of gates. Designed by a 12-year-old boy.

- NZ Herald

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