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IRRI showcased its unmanned aerial systems (UAS), more commonly known as drones, at 2015 International Film Expo in Manila held recently

IRRI droneGlenn Enriquez talks about the use of drones at the event. (Image source: IRRI)

The drones patrol the institute’s campus of over 200 ha, six times a day.

IRRI’s head of security, Glenn Enriquez, said, “Introduced in 2012, the drones are used in a complementary capacity to the ground team. If one of our ‘pilots’ operating the drones spots any unusual activity, they call the ground team to check on the situation. In the past, cows have been spotted grazing on the rice fields at night, which could affect the scientists’ experiments, and may not have been detected without the use of drones equipped with thermal imaging cameras.”

Drones are also a useful tool for scientists, who can see their rice experiments from a bird’s eye view. This can help for research purposes, such as the comprehensive assessment of complex plant traits such as growth, development, tolerance, yield and other observable traits.

James Quilty, head of IRRI’s experiment station said, “There is little doubt that in the future, drones will be involved in a wide range of tasks from phenotyping, possibly sampling, and probably delivering payloads to plots. The technology is advancing rapidly.”

Steve Klassen, environmental science and engineering consultant at IRRI, uses drones to check on his five ha plot. The drone must be flown three times with three different cameras in order to collect the necessary information that takes about 30 minutes. Without drones, this process would take around four hours, he said.

“This season, drones will be tested alongside more traditional data-collection methods to evaluate their performance and potential,” he added.

IRRI’s use of drones aligns with good practices regarding privacy. “Respect for privacy is paramount in the operations of the drones,” Enriquez emphasised.

“For this reason, our security team works very closely with the local community to inform them of the reasons we use drones. Also, the drones are not flown above the local communities, as can be shown by the GPS-tracked flight paths.”