When I recently heard about the Danish company Ecobotix in the local news, it was with the headline “Drones to bomb fields with insects.” That instantly had me remembering watching a series called Minuscule with my kids. It is so hilarious, and I am pleased to have an excuse of sharing one of my favorites with you:
Anyway, as cute and as funny insects may be, they are often considered pests in agriculture, and in recent human history we a have gladly poisoned the poor little things, only to realize that we are in fact poisoning ourselves.
Bombing bugs with bugs
From what you will learn from the following, imagery of battles like in the video above are bound to enter your mind, and given the fact that Ecobotix drones are equipped with cameras, maybe this young company should consider producing epic battle documentaries alongside with what the company is set out to accomplish in the first place — which is:
…to develop and offer solutions that can eliminate the use of chemical pesticides. By matching biological control with modern technologies, we effectively assist nature to leverage its own means; increasing the efficiency and attractiveness of ecological production.
Ecobotix also has a video to explain this clearly, albeit with less violence than the fiction of Minuscule:
The company was founded in 2015 and the team behind it believes that modern farming must make economic and ecologic sense. In collaboration with universities and other partners internationally the company currently holds research grants from the likes of Green Development and Demonstration Program (GUDP) and others.
The vision for Ecobotix is clear as dew:
A world where healthy food can be available to anyone, and where production shall take place without a negative impact on the environment. Ecobotix aims to become the European point of reference in the field of ecological agriculture service providers by offering related technologies with clear benefits for farmers.
This kind of bio-control has been used more frequently over the years in in-door applications, but now drones make it possible to move out-doors, where the environment for the crops in question is much more hostile. Invading pests, unpredictable weather, and also the larger areas are difficult to monitor in practical terms. Here at CleanTechnica we have covered autonomous farming equipment earlier, and drones are maturing to be another tool in the box.
The drones from Ecobotix are the extended eyes and hands of the farmer. They can be used to scan areas and act accordingly by deploying troops of bio control agents of select beneficial organisms.
Visual and infrared imagery recorded at fixed intervals gives the farmer unprecedented possibilities of analyzing data on how crops are developing.
With dispensing and spreading on infested areas in just the right timing and amounts, the predators don’t stand a chance. The beneficial organisms can of course be deployed even before any attacks are detected, provided they don’t have a taste for the crops they are sent to guard of course.
Troopers and engineers
I asked Ecobotix founder Anders Petersen about his thoughts on how this would develop further, from the current traditional monocultural methods to an eventual permacultural state, and whether we will see fully automated agriculture in the future:
I am an engineer, and in no way an expert in permaculture, but perceives it as a philosophy that the earth should be cultivated in closer covenant with the naturally occurring polyculture. This really is a noble aim, but the fact is that much agricultural land today is grown as monoculture, since it is widely considered to be most cultivation efficient — at least considering the current standard of modern technology of cultivation.
Our focus in Ecobotix is to ensure the possibility of efficient cultivation without the use of pesticides, and in this regard, the monocultural cultivation form is the one we are beginning to refine. However, my expectation is that our autonomous technologies will be further developed in the long-term to promote efficient polycultural cultivation, especially when demand from consumers and society increases.
I think, in principle, that agriculture can be fully automated, but it’s not a given that it will make economic sense, and it is also important to maintain the authenticity and passion for nature and products — partly for the motivation of the farmer — but especially in the view of the consumer.
One of Ecobotix partners is the Department of Agroecology at the University of Aarhus, and I asked senior researcher Annie Enkegaard about the perspectives on using drones for pest control:
There are great prospects of using drones for spreading beneficial organisms. It is expected that the technology will be time-saving for farmers in terms of manual delivery. In addition, it is expected that drone delivery may have a more even distribution of beneficial organisms, which will increase the chance of a positive outcome of the fight against pests.
Are human skills evolving or vanishing?
So, I can’t help thinking that agriculture will be somewhat less visible in the future, in contrast to the heavy machinery we see in the gigantic monocultural fields today. We here have yet another example of human skills being replaced by technology that understands nature better. In my opinion we failed as a species when we began using pesticides, the quick fix with the high price tag, in terms of the damage, that we are not finished paying off. We probably lost ancient knowledge of ecological pest control when we started pumping tons of poison over our fields to maximize yields and profit.
However, I guess this is how we humans might ultimately survive against the odds: Get skill. Make mayhem. Invent technology. Fix wasteland. Get new skill…