Cape Town based aerial-data analytics startup Aerobotics has launched five new innovative precision agriculture products that aim to help fruit and wine farmers to detect pests and diseases. The startup launched the new products at a recent event in Franschhoek. The event was also live-streamed to 11 satellite locations in South Africa (these were in: Kirkwood, the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands, the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast, Citrusdal, Johannesburg, Pretoria, Patensie, Tzaneen, Nelspruit and Hartswater.

The new products — which Aerobotics CEO and co-founder James Paterson (pictured above) said are an industry first — include a drone scouting application, software that allows for automated problem detection, an application that uses artificial intelligence (AI) generated scouting routes, another that enables AI-enabled disease identification and an intuitive reporting tool. The five products will be rolled out next week.

Aerobotics now caters to 100 000 hectares across 11 countries, with 85% of its clientbase in South Africa. Speaking at the event, Paterson, whose parents run a citrus farm in Citrusdal, said up to 15% of farmer losses can be attributed to pests and disease. He said the new products will enable farmers to identify and focus on unhealthy trees and vines, and by doing so help decrease time spent looking for these problems on their farms as well as decrease yield loss.

‘Focus currently on SA, US’
The startup currently serves farmer with farms that cover 100 000 hectares across 11 countries, including Australia, New Zealand, US, Chile and Russia. In all 85% of the startup’s client are based in South Africa. This, while the startup is working with partners in Spain, France and Portugal.

In addition, Paterson said Aerobotics had carried out operations on commercial farms in Kenya, Tanzania as well as Malawi. He added that the startup has plans to expand to West Africa. However, he emphasised that the startup’s focus is currently on South Africa and the US. Paterson, who said the startup — which was founded in 2014 — “likes to develop fast and is constantly pushing for new innovation”, told Ventureburn on the sidelines of the event that it had taken Aerobotics three months to develop its new Drone Scouting App.

Aerobotics’ Drone Scouting App makes use of high-resolution sub-millimetre images of stressed trees or vines. These images are then run through Aerobotics’ first-ever tree and crop vineyard pest and disease detection database. Pests and disease are then identified using AI and machine learning, with the results communicated to the farmer via push notification. In addition, Aerobotics’ Aeroview system will now automatically generate scout routes for farmers using AI.

Once the system has automatically detected problem trees that need further investigation and a scout route has been planned using AI technology, Aerobotic’s Drone Scouting Application will send the route to a drone.

The drone will take off and fly a custom-designed mission, locating trees which have been identified as experiencing stress. The drone will come down to about a metre above the tree to take a high-resolution image at leaf-specific detail. This will then be uploaded to Aerobotics’ pest and disease database.

In an earlier statement, Aerobotics data science manager Michael Malahe said until now farmers have had to individually visit each tree and rely on past experience and knowledge in the field to identify pests and diseases. “Now Aeroview has the technology to do all of this for the farmer. The amount of time, energy and money farmers can save with Aerobotics’ new technology is impressive,” said Malahe.

Aerobotics co-founder and CTO Benji Meltzer added that the new technology has “massive implications” for the farming sector as early detection of these risks will enable early intervention, saving farmers costs, protecting crops and saving yields exposed to harmful pests and diseases. –, by Daniel Mpala