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Drones on the rise

From the November 2018 issue.

Advancements to drone technology are revolutionising many industries and coffee production is no exception.

Developments in drone technology have led to the machines being utilised in a variety of industries, from military to logistics, and now agriculture is on board.

Drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), are small, remotely piloted aircraft operated by a ground-based controller.

Brazilian drone manufacturer XMobots says UAV technology is very well established in Brazilian agriculture, with the sugarcane, soybean, corn, cotton, and eucalyptus sectors making use of the drones to monitor crops and apply pesticides. The company has also seen several coffee producers use its drones.

“We have three large coffee groups that use our technology in Brazil,” XMobots Commercial Director Thatiana Miloso says.

“Our drones are used to collect data that contributes from the topography of the terrain – such as planialtimetric surveys and contour lines – to the counting of coffee trees and detection of pests, soil water stress, among other problems that reduce crop yield.”

Drones can also be used to measure land size, detect planting failures, and evaluate crop casualties in case of crop fires and excessive rainfall.

XMobots’ Arator 58 has been of particular interest to coffee farmers, particularly its high accuracy HA1M5 configuration. Miloso says the model is an easy-to-operate, versatile drone that can cover an average of 400 hectares per flight considering a five centimetre ground sample distance.

The embedded high accuracy real-time kinematic technology guarantees positional accuracy of a few centimetres without the need to collect control points.

The drones use a multispectral 1M5 camera to detect plant disease and pest infestation.

“Depending on the disease, it can be detected in its first manifestations – impossible to be seen with the naked eye – through the spectra RedEdge and infrared gear,” Miloso says.

Once the images are collected, Miloso says it is necessary for an agronomist to go to the affected site and collect a sample of the plant, to verify exactly which pest has attacked the tree.

XMobots was founded in 2007 by Giovani Amianti, a mechatronic engineer, and today, one of the largest experts in the market on fixed wing drones.

“At that time [2007], the civilian drone sector was not developed, only the military sector,” Miloso says.

“It was in aeromodelling competitions of the University of São Paulo that Giovani had the first conversations with one of his teachers on boarding sensors in model airplanes for mapping areas.

“From then on, [he undertook] years of studying to perfect his Masters and PhD. The first drone of XMobots – called Apoena 1000A – was manufactured in 2010.”

Looking ahead, XMobots plans to develop drones tailored to coffee production’s unique challenges.

“In Brazil, there are many coffee plantations in mountainous areas, and in these areas, there is a lot of difficulty in the application of pesticides due to the particularities of the terrain, [which] does not allow the application by manned aircraft due to the inherent hazards of this activity,” Moroso says.

In 2019, XMobots plans to launch a drone designed for pesticide application in these areas.

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