Robot helicopters are being used by Australia’s peak science body, the CSIRO, to survey Australia’s remote rainforests for weed infestations.
Two Project ResQu helicopters – different from drones because they fly independently instead of under the guidance of a controller – developed by robotic researchers completed trial flights near Cairns, locating weeds such as the purple plague, Miconia calvescens, that have the potential to wipe out native vegetation.
Biosecurity Flagship Science Director, Dr Gary Fitt, said access to dense rainforests was difficult for people but all-too-easy for weeds which get carried in by animals or blown in from gardens or farms.
“Miconia is among the worst of a number of weeds that pose a significant threat to Australia’s precious rainforest remnants,” Dr Fitt said.
“Unless detected and eradicated early, they can cause irreversible damage to our native plant and animal populations.”
The helicopters allow weed detection faster than anything before.
The unmanned helicopters surveyed rainforests at El Arish, near Cairns and found not only found Miconia but several other weed species.
The helicopters can navigate obstacles without human control while recording locations and images for biosecurity staff to scan for evidence of weeds.
According to robotics researcher Torsten Merz the helicopters are small enough to fit in the back of a van, are easy to use and operate under controlled conditions with failsafe mechanisms built-in.
“We built the prototypes over two years and trialled them in difficult conditions,” Dr Merz said.
Here’s a video of the robots in flight:
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