Aerial army for palm oil firms

NST, November 25, 2019

By Ayisy Yusof

Hong Kong-based Insight Robotics Ltd is set to supply between 30 and 50 drones to four plantation companies in Malaysia beginning next year.

Chief operating officer William Tao said most of the drones would be used at the oil palm estates to support planters' operations, particularly in precision farming.

''The drones are expected to be delivered in the second half of next year. Each fixed-wing drone will cost about US$25,000 (RM104,250),'' he told the New Straits Times recently.

''Our drones have sensors and cameras that can capture multispectral images, providing better visibility of oil palm plantation, crop health monitoring and identification of key threats such as bagworm and water stress,'' said Tao.

Insight Robotics' aerial survey also delivers high quality and reliable analytic data for visualisation and planning of both brownfield and greenfield land.

The company's services include intelligent plantation and agriculture-focused risk management services for precise and early detection of human and natural threats.

Among the estate management applications are measuring total planted and unplanted areas, oil palm counting, detailed infrastructure mapping, fertile and infertile land analysis and digital elevation model.

Mata Aerotech chief executive officer Wan Azrain Adnan said there were plenty of interest from agriculture players and government agencies regionally on using drone and robotics technology in farming.

''Oil palm industry faces the shortage of labour as the work is labour intensive. Precision agriculture is the future of farming. Drone and robotics technology definitely help to reduce the dependency on labour.''

''The agriculture sector will depends on foreign labour. We must look at drone and robotics technology towards automation and Industrial Revolution 4.0.

He said planters could use drone imaginary to calculate the number of trees in an estate, instead of sending people to count the number manually.

''Thus, it will save time and cost as the process is fast and efficient. Plant counting is important for detecting how many trees are still alive so that they can calculate the amount of fertilisers and pesticides needed.''

Other applications in the agriculture sector include plant heal analysis, mapping (for replanting) and spraying (pesticides).

He said the adoption of drone and robotics application in the agriculture sector was still at an infant stage.

''We have to educate organisations on the value that drones and robotics technology can offer. The adoption rate has been partly commercial but mostly educational.'' he added.