TU Delft, Royal Brinkman and start-up Mapture have developed the next step in drone technology for agriculture. Their new AI-enabled drone takes off completely independently, flies over rows of plants and people in a greenhouse, takes high-resolution photos, and lands safely back on its charging station. The photos provide growers with information about diseases and pests much more quickly.

The drone is a long-established and proven way to collect large-scale and autonomous data, but most current self-flying drones operate only outdoors, high in the sky. Guido de Croon, professor of bio-inspired drones at TU Delft said that the reason relates to GPS: “Drones typically rely on GPS to know where they are and where to go. In indoor spaces, such as greenhouses, GPS is not reliable enough for navigation when flying autonomously. At the Faculty of Aerospace Engineering we are working on light, small drones that can fly independently using AI. This is important, because such drones are very safe for humans, who don’t need to take extra safety measures when flying the drones. Making such a light drone fly independently is a major challenge, because they have far fewer sensors and less on-board computing power than, for example, a self-driving car. We have developed a localization technique – the drone combines signals from radio beacons in the greenhouse with its own observations to find its location as precisely as possible.”

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