The war against weed incursions is taking to the air

A REVOLUTION in the state’s fight against weeds is almost here.

The result of a 12-month trial on unmanned aerial vehicles – commonly known as drones – was on show 

yesterday near Armidale.

EXCITING NEW TOOL: Calvin Hung, left, and Zhe Xu from Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Field Robotic Research with Scott Charlton (NSW DPI), Maria Woods (chair Northern Inland Weeds Advisory Committee) and Mike Whitney (Liverpool Plains Shire Council weed officer) in the Dangarsleigh area near Armidale showing off a drone following a 12-month trial. Photo: Barry Smith 100614BSA17

EXCITING NEW TOOL: Calvin Hung, left, and Zhe Xu from Sydney University’s Australian Centre for Field Robotic Research with Scott Charlton (NSW DPI), Maria Woods (chair Northern Inland Weeds Advisory Committee) and Mike Whitney (Liverpool Plains Shire Council weed officer) in the Dangarsleigh area near Armidale showing off a drone following a 12-month trial. Photo: Barry Smith 100614BSA17

The pilot project is a joint initiative of the Northern Inland Weeds Advisory Committee, NSW Department of Primary Industries (NSW DPI) and the University of Sydney.

Now all that is needed is a further three-month cost-benefit analysis and some instructional algorithms, said Scott Charlton, the manager of the invasive plants program with NSW DPI. 

“We’re going to do a cost-benefit analysis of what it would be replacing and how much more efficient it would be,” Mr Charlton said.

Algorithms would be done “to distinguish between different types of plants”.

Two researchers from the University of Sydney yesterday demonstrated how drones can be used to identify weed incursions such as tropical soda apple, alligator weed and serrated tussock throughout our region. 

“These weeds were picked because they have particular problems – they’re hard to find; serrated tussock is hard to spot,” Mr Charlton said.

Other weeds such as water hyacinth were also chosen because it is an aquatic weed – many of the weeds are 

in hard-to-access areas or challenging terrain like riverbanks. 

Mr Charlton said he could see four uses for drones:

* Routine inspections and surveys of weeds done by local government;

* Limitation surveys (where it had spread to) if a new weed was identified in a particular area;

* Ongoing observation of a weed colony; and

* Intellectual property and algorithms passed onto landowners.

Mr Charlton said drones were an exciting step forward in technology.

“It’s almost like in the 1990s when they were developing the internet: those baby steps need to be taken by someone to make the technology available to the masses.”

Drones, operated using batteries, flew at a height of 30 metres and could be either fixed wing or a helicopter style.

Interchangeable lenses could be used.

“The technology is amazing,” Mr Charlton said.

“They’re very cheap, under $1000 ... and cheap to run.

“There are privacy concerns but that’s another thing that will be discussed in the future – that’s a separate issue.”

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