New buzz on drones

February 17, 2019
New buzz on drones

What’s all the buzz about bees?

“Dropcopter” drones mimic bees in California and New York, delivering pollen to apples, almonds, and cherry orchards from ten feet above the trees.

Precise timing and delivery of vital pollens led to 25 to 50 percent increases in yields as well as superior fruit in the first three years of testing.  Whereas bees may opt out of night assignments or stay in when the weather is too cold, Dropcopter drones work at the whim of their operators, pollinating 30 to 40 acres per hour in 25 to 30 minute shifts.

Meanwhile, Australia-based Bee Innovative wants to partner with drone experts in North Dakota to upgrade the drones it uses with its bee tracking technology.

“BeeDar” can track bees as they fly and has bee recognition software to identify types of bees as well as bee disease.  Learning more about how weather and terrain influence bee activity could, the company believes, increase crop yields in the future.

Video Spotlight: Drone pollinates Central New York apple orchard

This post is based on the AOPA article, Drones Deliver Pollen, Better Fruit, by Zach Ryall, January 7, 2019; the MPR News article, Company looks to North Dakota to test bee-tracking technology, by Dan Gunderson, February 2, 2019; the Park Rapids Enterprise article, Using drones to track bees, by Jonathan Knutson, February 5, 2019; and the YouTube video, Drone pollinates Central New York apple orchard, by, June 6, 2018. Image source: szefei ©

Discussion Questions:

1. In what ways are Dropcopter drones saving farmers money or improving fruit quality and profitability?

Guidance: Superior apples come from “king blooms,” which are the first ones to open.  Whereas bees cannot be relied on to pollinate the blooms at exactly the right moment when the king blooms are ready, Dropcopters can.  The trees are then covered with nets to prevent bees from pollinating later blooms.  Together, these steps save labor down the road by eliminating costs associating with thinning smaller apples.

In addition, fruit can be gathered in one harvest, rather than having to repeat the process multiple times.

Finally, apples grown from the king blooms are generally worth twice as much as other apples when they hit the market.  One independent study of the Dropcopter’s impact on this process showed value per acre rose by 30 percent

2. What other features of BeeDar’s product design technology offer new benefits to farmers?

Guidance: One other possibility is to use the recognition software to recognize crop pests, to better protect and defend crops from destruction. More targeted pest management might lead to more sustainable uses of pesticides and other crop management techniques.

3. Why is Bee Innovations partnering with the University of North Dakota? What type of upgrades are needed for the drone’s design in bee tracking?

Guidance: As the nation’s largest producer of honey, North Dakota has a vested interest in keeping up with all the latest in bee technology, and the University of North Dakota has the expertise that Bee Innovations is looking for.

In this case, the design issues pertain primarily to function and safety.  Currently, drones used in Australia have some navigation problems, because they cannot identify and avoid flying into nets or other hazards that cause damage to themselves and other equipment and crops.



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