Droids a farm fantasy


Any farmer who has dreamed of being able to check farm stock, infrastructure or crops from the air, without leaving the warmth of their kitchens on a cold winter's morning, will soon be able to do just that.

It might sound like fantasy but Droidworx New Zealand is bringing the dream alive with their high-tech range of aerial robotic craft, developed at the company's Raglan base.

Already causing a sensation in the film and television industries, the craft are now being developed for use in agriculture, fisheries and forestry.

These remote-controlled eyes in the sky can not only monitor stock and crops by transmitting live video back to the operator, but can also carry sophisticated equipment capable of detecting soil problems, weeds, moisture levels, crop and animal diseases and even forecasting production, say company directors Linda Bulk and Rob Brouwer.

The quadricopter machines can also carry a spray tank for selective spraying and, in the not-too-distant future, the Ag-Monster will be capable of carrying 20 litres of concentrated spray, says Bulk.

The company has spent much time developing hardy airframes to make the machines suitable for agricultural applications.

The work has certainly paid off - at this year's Fieldays, the Ag-Monster took out the Most Viable Business Award and contractors, farmers and horticulturalists are already taking notice, says Bulk.

She and Brouwer, a former pilot, stumbled upon the technology used in their machines in a little helicopter shop near their hometown in northern New South Wales.

"It was the very first quad rotor [four engines] machine to enter the country, and we have been involved in its development ever since," says Bulk. The pair set up Droidworx in Australia three years ago, and moved to Raglan 18 months ago.

Droidworx NZ has grown rapidly, igniting what Bulk describes as "a worldwide frenzy".

"Ninety-eight per cent of our products go overseas and are mainly used in the film and TV industries.

"We have many more ideas and inspirations because this technology has much to offer to help and support the environment and humanity in many ways.

"This is our passion.

"Though the robots themselves are funky and eye-catching, in the end it is all about functionality and applications and in this regard, the sky is the limit."

She says the technology creates the potential to gather data quickly and accurately, quietly and without pollution.

"An operator can launch a craft and get images - including thermal and infrared images or sensor data of crop and plantation canopies - within just minutes, relaying the footage back to base via wireless technology," she says.

"The ability to obtain a high-resolution aerial or canopy view with a craft that fits in the backseat of a car, and with up to 40 minutes' flight time per battery charge, could be significant for many in the agriculture industry.

"Some even fantasise about moving herds and flocks around on those icy-cold mornings remotely with the help of the flying robots - while enjoying a cup of tea in the warmth of the kitchen.

"It might sound like sci-fi but it is already possible, and will become more and more common."

The range of craft is detailed on www.droidworx.co.nz and will continue to expand as more prototypes become finalised, Linda says.

Droidworx facts

  • Droidworx aerial robots can be fitted with any sensor or camera equipment up to 5kg-6kg. Flight times vary from 15 minutes for larger payloads to up to 40 minutes for smaller cameras or sensors.

  • Technical range capability is up to 10-15km. Flying the machines in public spaces is regulated and line-of-sight and a 120m height ceiling applies.

  • They can be flown manually or automatically, GPS co-ordinated, and can stop, hover and zoom in on areas of interest. The image of the onboard camera is transmitted to a ground station for instant viewing and/or recorded for later analysis.

- Hamilton News

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