Drones to spotlight pest animals

Cutting-edge technology is being mobilised as a new tool in Australian agriculture’s fight against invasive pests. Ninox Robotics, an Australian-owned company started in the Sydney suburb of Paddington by businessman Marcus Ehrlich, is ready to use unmanned aerial vehicles, more commonly known as ‘drones’, to spot pest species in rural areas.

Ehrlich describes his plans for the drones as providing a ‘quantum leap’ in helping Australian farmers and graziers to tackle destructive animals such as wild dogs and feral pigs on their land. “We will be aiming to target any animals that are big enough to find. These can be wild dogs, pigs, goats, plus potentially rabbits and cats,” said Ehrlich. “We will hopefully have the whole set of vertebrates in our sights.”

The space-age option utilises infrared cameras, machine learning systems and custom-built aerial baiting mechanisms in its search for nuisance critters. It is planned for the drone to be launched by a team of two from a mobile ground control station. The flyer can cover around 5000 hectares during its usual reconnaissance mission, which can last for four hours. Real-time thermal video is streamed from its flight path back onto computers at the base, showing where any ferals are located.

The drones are capable of travelling up to 80km from the control station, seeking out pests with the infrared cameras previously used in military operations, notably by United States forces in such areas as Pakistan and Iraq.

“The system will be slightly different to those used in the warzones, but it will be a case of military technology being adapted to work for civilian purposes,” said Ehrlich.

Once located, the whereabouts of the unwelcome animals can be passed on to landowners, who can then initiate appropriate action.

Ehrlich suggested that SSAA members could fulfil a useful role in the anti-pest process. “The intelligence gathered could be put to optimum use by members who are experts at hunting,” he said. “Our systems have an unmatched ability to target animals and that information would be best in the hands of experienced shooters and hunters who are assisting Australian landowners in combating this nationwide problem.”

At the time of writing, Ninox Robotics was preparing to carry out its latest series of trials in late January in the areas of Charleville, Moree and the Northern Tablelands of New South Wales around Armidale. “If it all works out, we could begin a promotional drive soon after,” said Ehrlich.

Because the firm is still fine-tuning the prototypes, it is hard to put a price on what using one of the drones would be to any farmer. “Everything is still in the development stage, but we estimate a four-hour sortie could end up costing about $3000,” said Ehrlich.

The Ninox boss would be happy for more property owners to assist the firm with its experiments. Any farmers or hunters interested in the project can email Ninox Robotics or phone 0408 991 563.

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