Like field plants, plants grown in greenhouses can be predated by flying insects. The Dutch-designed PATS system aims to help by sending small drones in mid-air to exterminate these insects.
PATS is manufactured by Wageningen University’s spin-off company of the same name and actually consists of two parts: PATS-C and PATS-X.
The PATS-C assembly consists of internet-connected infrared camera modules installed throughout the greenhouse. These devices use artificial intelligence-based algorithms to detect and identify any flying insects that enter the airspace above the plants. Species identification is based on wing beat frequency and size.
If the insect turns out to be a beneficial species, like a bee, then leave it alone. However, if it’s a pest…well, PATS-X comes into play.
PATS-X consists of one or more small quadcopters that sit on wireless charging docks in the greenhouse when not in use. When a pest is detected, PATS-C activates the drone and guides it to where the insect is. The helicopter then flies directly at the pest – shredding it with its propellers – before returning to its platform.
The basic version of PATS-C is actually already in use in around 250 greenhouses in Europe. Customers can learn about insect populations in their facility through an online dashboard. PATS-X is currently in trials and is expected to reach the first customers before the end of this year.
Interestingly, a recent Wageningen University study led by PATS biologist Dayo Jansen found that drones’ motors produce ultrasonic waves in the same range as bats. Therefore, some species of pests actively avoid noise by flying to the ground.
Jensen is now factoring this into drone-control algorithms that predict the moth’s evasive behavior when the drone approaches. Additionally, however, it’s conceivable that PATS users could play such sounds through speakers in their greenhouses, thereby preventing moths from flying over their plants in the first place.
“Through my research, we aim to take a closer look at some of the most common and harmful species in European greenhouses and make sure our systems are ready to take a tailored approach against them,” Jensen said.