India‘s Civil Aviation Ministry has given the go-ahead for the first time for drones to fly during nightfall to help fight locusts swarming on large trees across northwest and central India.

The drones have been specifically built by Anna University in Chennai, India, with a pesticide tank that is 60% larger and an overall weight of 50kg (~110 pounds). The drones are powered using a dual system – petrol and battery – with a maximum flight time three times longer than the drones previously used.

The new drones are equipped with thermal cameras to better locate the locusts in the dark by detecting the heat signatures created by the small insect.

To date, three drones have been deployed to detect and destroy the locust swarms, with another 15 planned to be built soon. The drones have also proven as a possible tool in the fight against COVID-19, thanks to the long endurance and large tank size.

Amber Dubey, joint secretary at India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation, congratulated the team behind the drones on getting the first-ever approval for night flights in India. Dubey said:

Night operations are more effective since the locusts are literally caught napping then. Good to see the growing use cases for drones in the agriculture sector.

Drones and locusts

Drones have been fighting locust swarms in various African countries over the last couple of years, with India now joining the African continent. Kenya and Mauritania have been monitoring crop damage and locust swarms to guide preparations before the swarms arrive. The United States Navy has funded a project that affixes a circuit board to locusts to hijack their sense of smell and use it to monitor for signs of chemicals used in bombs.

Photo: Joel Sartore


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