By Kawinthara Jaisue
Khon Kaen University is developing unmanned aircraft to be used in evaluating the sweetness of sugarcane, aiming to increase farming efficiency and lower the cost to 20 times cheaper than using foreign services.
This project is a collaboration between the university, Office of National Higher Education, Science, Research and Innovation Policy Council (ONES), National Science and Technology Development Agency (NSTDA), and partners in the private sector. It is headed by Assoc Professor Dr Kwantri Saengprachathanaraks of the Agricultural Engineering Faculty, while the technology has been jointly developed by HG Robotics and Global Crop.
Kwantri said the drone has been designed to work in a sugarcane field, taking photographs of the crop and evaluating the level of sweetness with a high level of accuracy. “In the past we evaluated the sweetness of sugarcane by manually extracting a sample, which can yield an error rate of up to 40 per cent,” he said. “To improve the result’s accuracy we have had to rely on expensive services of foreign corporations. But with this drone we can cut that cost considerably, as it is 20 times cheaper.”
Sugarcane drones work in collaboration with satellite imaging software owned by private partners. This software will analyse photographs taken by the drones and calculate the level of sweetness, growth rate, and possible plant diseases using AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology. It can analyse hundreds of thousands of rai of sugarcane in a very short time with high precision, letting the farmers know when the crops will reach their peak sweetness and plan their harvesting schedule accordingly.
“The drones also help decrease sugarcane waste caused by harvesting too early or too late, consequentially reducing the need to burn them which is one of the main causes of PM 2.5 pollution,” Kwantri added.
The University is hoping to see widespread use of sugarcane drones in the future. It has now turned to planning to develop a comprehensive database that can be shared among sugarcane farmers, processors and sugar factories to improve the efficiency of sugarcane farming while the minimising reliance on foreign technology, as well as environmental impacts.