Drones to one day swarm WA crops: innovator

Zach RelphCountryman
Stratus Imaging operations manager and chief pilot Andrew Dedman with a Xaircraft drone at TECHSPO.
Camera IconStratus Imaging operations manager and chief pilot Andrew Dedman with a Xaircraft drone at TECHSPO. Credit: Zach Relph

Flying up to five drones at once above broadacre farms could be an eye in the sky for the State’s grain growers to manage crops, according to Stratus Imaging chief pilot Andrew Dedman.

Speaking from the sidelines at TECHSPO in Katanning last Thursday, Mr Dedman championed the Perth-based company’s ability to provide farmers with aerial imaging and mapping.

Stratus uses normalised difference vegetation index technology, or NDVI, across crops to help producers make “quantifiable management decisions throughout the growing season”.

Flying an unmanned aerial vehicle equipped with a multispectral camera, NDVI imaging gives Stratus a birds-eye view of an entire crop to asses its health.

Earlier this month, Stratus became the State’s only company with Civil Aviation Safety Authority certification to fly five drones with one pilot and one controller at once for aerial application.

Mr Dedman, who is also the company’s operations manager, said gaining the CASA certification would prove beneficial in Stratus efficiently mapping farmers’ crops.

One of the drones in flight.
Camera IconOne of the drones in flight. Credit: Zach Relph

“With one drone, you can only do limited areas, but when you get five you can do about 20ha per hour,” he said.

“To get a swarm certification from CASA, the manufacturer (XAG) had to demonstrate that this system could be safely operated with one pilot and five drones.”

Stratus uses 38.5kg plant protection drones designed by XAG, formerly known as XAIRCRAFT.

XAG, a Chinese-founded drone manufacturer, is working to fit the unit with weed detection technology.

Mr Dedman said aerial weed detection would be an efficient management tool for farmers.

“It will allow the drones to fly out in a swarm to find weeds and spray them,” he said.

“It’s great technology and we are pretty excited by what it has to offer.”

Mr Dedman also has an aerial application licence, through Aerial Application Association of Australia, to spray approved chemicals from the aircraft.

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