Technology Aided Weed Control

(Published on 15th June 2017)

If you were near the Rotopiko Lakes Complex in the Waikato on Monday 12 June you may have noticed an extremely small helicopter flying about at lunchtime. You will have heard it's lawn mower like  sound but may have struggled to see where the noise was coming from - as the machine is only three metre long by one metre high.

The helicopter drone demonstration was organised by NZ Landcare Trust Regional Coordinator Nardene Berry, who had recently contracted Green Streams (Pirongia) to undertake some willow control work around a local peat lake.  Nardene was impressed with the herbicide spray operation and  felt others would benefit from seeing the drone in action.

The drone, which is one of only three of this type in New Zealand, is leased by Green Streams and was flown by Nigel Atkinson. The machine is manufactured in Japan where it is a common agricultural tool used by rice farmers. Powered by a 246cc 2 stroke Yamaha engine running on 91 octane petrol, it has an operational flight time of around 45-60 minutes. Its maximum lift capacity is 26 kg, and when used for spraying it can carry 16 litres of chemical - allowing for the weight of the spray equipment.

Previous spray operations have ranged from large areas of willow control to spot application for individual pampas plants. The machine can also be used for a variety of applications in addition to spraying, including being fitted with a hopper for seeding hard-to-reach areas such as slips. Yamaha Motor NZ have carried out spraying on cliff sides with a lance attachment and have helped with reseeding following the Port Hills fire. If required it can also be equipped for specialised photography.

The helicopter drone is equipped with Yamaha Attitude Control System (YACS) which keeps it stable in winds up to 40km/hr, GPS position hold, and a tracker to provide proof of placement. Apart from position-holding auto-stability, all flying is manual and NZ regulations require that it be flown within line of sight. Typically operation is by a pilot and spotter, the latter close to the target area and providing a different angle of sight to judge location.

The demonstration flight at Rotopiko was enjoyed by a number of environmental restoration practitioners. Cameron Baker from Yamaha was on hand to answer technical questions.








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