October 11, 2017 12:25 pm JST

Drones to protect farms from wildlife -- and wildlife from us

Tokyo startup launching service that will monitor and scare off animals

SHOJI YANO, Nikkei staff writer

Skyrobot's drones capture infrared images, emit sounds and may soon drop odor bombs.

TOKYO -- A Japanese startup is taking to the skies to help farmers keep wildlife at bay on the ground.

Skyrobot, the Tokyo-based venture, is set to launch a drone service to spot animals that are about to come down from the mountains to harm crops -- and potentially people.

The service, to be launched on Oct. 1, will use a drone equipped with an infrared camera that detects heat. This means images can be captured day and night. The drone will soar over mountains, and when animals appear to be headed for farmland, it will emit a high-frequency signal or firecracker sounds to scare them off.

Humans monitoring the system remotely will decide when to take the countermeasures. The price will start at 200,000 yen ($1,800), plus tax.

The company's system analyzes the aerial images to predict animals' behavior -- by spotting their trails, for example. Skyrobot plans to add another deterrent in 2019: dropping a ball containing a liquid with a repellent odor. It will be possible to drop the ball on precise targets.

At present, there are limited options for protecting people and crops from marauding animals. Hunters are one of them. 

Information technology can help with tracking, but people still have to tag target animals with transmitters. Though the drones will not remove the human element entirely, the behavioral analysis and creative countermeasures promise a more effective solution.

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