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Technology

AI, drone team up for humane farmland protection

Less harmful, less costly approach to safeguarding crops from wildlife

Skyrobot's pilot drone flies above animal trails over an area measuring 5km by 5km.   © Not selection

TOKYO -- Tokyo-based drone startup Skyrobot is pioneering a new artificial intelligence-based system to protect farmland from wild animals, without resorting to shooting them.

With a special camera that can detect infrared rays as well as visible light, a drone being developed by the company can map the movements of animals at night through thermal images produced by their body heat. Based on the data, the system's AI software makes predictions about the animals' behavior.

When an animal approaches a crop field, the drone's speakers emit ultrasonic waves that are inaudible to humans to drive it away.

Skyrobot has been conducting a feasibility study in partnership with a municipality in Gunma Prefecture, northwest of Tokyo, where crops have been repeatedly damaged by monkeys and wild boar. The municipal government has decided to try out the drones as a more humane way of protecting farmland than traditional methods.

  © Not selection

Skyrobot's pilot drone flies above animal trails over an area measuring 5km by 5km to collect data to find out where wild animals live. The AI-based system then analyzes the data to predict their behavior.

Gunma Prefecture used to use nets with sensors to study wild animals. But this method is not only extremely labor intensive, but also risks harming wildlife. It is hoped the use of a drone will be more efficient and less harmful.

Skyrobot is also conducting a feasibility study slightly further west in Nagano Prefecture, protecting farms from the frequent bear attacks in the region. After the study, the company plans to commercialize the system for local municipalities. It plans to offer not just drones and their operation services, but also data analysis in a bid to make it easier for municipalities to use the system.

To operate a drone in Japan, permission must be obtained from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism regarding when and where it will be flown in order to prevent public nuisance. Skyrobot plans to undertake the registration process on behalf of its customers so as to help users fly drones at night.

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