PATS Drones: The innovative technology that helps monitor and control flying pests in greenhouses
Flying pests in greenhouses are surely one of the main challenges that growers face in their day-to-day work. Moths, in particular, pose a few difficulties: They are active at night, they can lay hundreds of caterpillars in a short period of time, and they rarely fall for conventional traps. Having the right tools to control such pests is, therefore, crucial. With their innovative technology, PATS Drones, a startup from the YES!Delft ecosystem, can not only monitor insects in crops, but also help eradicate them.
Automating the pest monitoring process
Interestingly enough, the idea for PATS did not originate from horticulture. It all started with a personal annoyance – mosquitos buzzing around the heads of Sjoerd Tijmons and Kevin van Hecke, two of the founders, in the middle of the night. That got them thinking of ways to control – if not eradicate – flying pests. With their backgrounds in autonomous flying vehicles, they figured they could turn to drone technology to help intersect flying insects.
It was this simple idea that later laid the foundation of PATS. While the mosquitos were eventually left alone, it did get Sjoerd and his brother Bram to think about the potential of small drones in controlling flying insects. Together with Kevin, they turned to horticulture as a market with large potential for such technology.
“Pests can be fierce,” says Bram, “and the use of insecticides in greenhouses are becoming stricter and stricter regulated. With our smart drone solutions, we help growers monitor and control the pest population in their greenhouses while limiting the use of chemicals.”
The startup is currently focusing on moths, an insect that can create quite some damage to crops. Because moths can reproduce quickly, it is crucial that growers have the tools to detect them as soon as possible. The PATS-C system that the team has developed is essentially a “real-time scouting solution for pests”. It enables early detection and tracking of harmful populations, without the need for growers to do any manual work.
All that is needed is for the system to be mounted on the greenhouse leg, from where its camera can capture images of the moth population. As moths are active at night, that’s when the detection takes place and, in the morning, growers get a dashboard overview of the presence of the insects. This makes it possible to identify the moths early on, so growers can take action in time.
“With our technology, we can detect moth presence weeks before conventional tools, and early detection is crucial for effective pest management,” Bram says. “By automating this process, we help growers save both time and costs. PATS-C also helps them understand the trends in their greenhouse, and predict – with a high level of precision – the lifecycle the moths are in.”
New partnerships and next steps
Acknowledging the potential of the startup’s solution are the tens of growers that are currently using the early detection and pest population tracking system. In September, PATS also signed an agreement with Royal Brinkman, one of the largest suppliers for horticulture in the Netherlands, to provide them with their PATS-C system.
“Royal Brinkman are a great partner to have and learn from,” Bram says. “They sell PATS-C as part of their crop protection portfolio. Together, we help growers in tracking pests early and accurately, so that Royal Brinkman can advise them proactively on taking countermeasures.”
As of more recently, the startup has also been positioning its PATS-X solution on the market. It enables fully automated and effective insect control with the help of very small drones , and without the use of insecticides. “We now have our autonomous system ready, and we will be rolling it out in early 2022.”
Going forward, the team of now 8 will be looking to grow with specialists in the fields of sales, marketing and development, among others. In addition to launching their drone systems, they also want to further scale their monitoring solution in the market.
“We are going to focus on this geographic area for now to show that we are ready to go global,” Bram says. “To do so, we will gradually be adding more insects to our solutions to gain market relevance. One insect type is good, two is much better and with three we would already be very relevant to most growers.”
Bram and his team surely have their plan ready. From now on, it’s a matter of more hard work, making the right connections and scaling.
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