UND partnership with Australian company gets agriculture sector buzzing

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Australian technology startup Bee Innovative and UND are partnering to unlock an entirely new market for agricultural drones in the United States.

A memorandum of understanding, signed recently on the UND campus in Grand Forks, N.D., outlines Bee Innovative’s extensive experience in tracking honeybees in real time for precision pollination in Australia with UND’s global leadership in unmanned aircraft systems (UAS).

Agriculture and honey production are an important part of North Dakota’s economy, of which UND, as the state’s flagship university, is a big driver through research and technology innovation.

“At UND, we are the epicenter of research and education in unmanned autonomous systems,” said Paul Snyder, director of the UAS Aviation Program at UND. “We are pleased to develop this strategic international relationship, leveraging our joint international expertise to solve real problems that directly benefit North Dakota and the entire international community.”

UND’s Aviation Program and its UAS programs are part of the world-renowned John D. Odegard School of Aerospace Sciences.

“Today’s drones are capable of autonomous flight over vast distances and have been proven to deliver greater efficiency and higher returns for farmers,” said Kate Lyall, chief technology officer and co-founder, Bee Innovative.

“Being able to extend those advantages to farmers working in more complex environments, such as under netting in orchards, is an exciting prospect for growers and technology vendors alike,” Lyall added.

The collaboration will focus on advancing the machine-vision-capability of Bee Innovative’s current drone platform, “BeeDar” which is used to track bee movements and pollination patterns in real-time by Australian farmers and has delivered 20 percent increases in crop yields and returns for farmers season to season.

This innovative partnership will allow BeeDar’s application to address current limitations in autonomous navigation that render drones incapable of recognizing and avoiding nets and other obstacles that can cause collisions and costly damage to equipment and crops.

“Thirty percent of the world’s food supply comes from pollination dependent crops, which are often grown in complex environments such as under netting or increasingly using indoor systems,” Lyall said.

“As we grapple with global challenges around food security and doing more with less, any innovation that delivers increased certainty, predictability and outputs for farmers is a welcome innovation.

“We’re excited to work with UND to leverage their experience in unmanned autonomous vehicles to enhance our current BeeDar capability and make this solution a reality for the local and global agriculture market.”