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Malaysia's con­tro­ver­sial oil palm plan­ta­tions could now flour­ish un­der the me­chan­i­cal gaze of au­ton­o­mous fly­ing drones. Lo­cal data an­a­lyt­ics startup Po­ladrone has set its sights on stream­lin­ing the cen­turies-old agri­cul­tural sta­ple by al­low­ing farm­ers to re­motely mon­i­tor their crops and track changes on the plan­ta­tion from the com­fort of their homes. Af­ter map­ping out the most ef­fi­cient flight path across the plan­ta­tion, Po­ladrone sends the drone out on au­to­matic re­conais­sance missions by means of a sep­a­rate flight con­trol soft­ware. Us­ing im­age recog­ni­tion soft­ware, Po­ladrone can then de­ter­mine which crops are healthy – hope­fully free from hu­man er­ror.

Al­though com­puter-con­trolled farmhands may seem a no-brainer for plan­ta­tion own­ers hop­ing to cut their over­heads, Po­ladrone has yet to find wide­spread sup­port among the na­tion's palm oil pro­duc­ers. Founder Ji Xi Cheong told Mash­able that while early adopters had em­braced the tech­nol­ogy, many of Malaysia's farm­ers were still cling­ing to their tried-and-tested meth­ods.

"It's still a very tra­di­tional in­dus­try, and we need to go one step at a time," he said. "It's not like an in­dus­try that's go­ing to [jump at] adopt­ing new tech­nol­ogy – it's go­ing to be a five- to ten-year process." South­east Asia's palm oil in­dus­try, cen­tred on In­done­sia and Malaysia, which alone ac­count for

40% of the world's palm oil, has come un­der heavy fire from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups for its dev­as­tat­ing im­pact upon the re­gion's forests and na­tive wildlife. It is this in­creased pres­sure on busi­nesses to use only sus­tain­ably pro­duced palm oil prod­ucts, Ji Xi said, that has prompted Po­ladrone to en­cour­age oil palm farm­ers to put ef­fi­ciency ahead of tra­di­tion. "What we're fo­cused on is some­thing that's very sim­ple and easy for [plan­ta­tion own­ers] to de­ploy," he said. "Some­thing that any­one can use, with­out much train­ing."

An aerial im­age taken by a drone, with a sec­tion of the palm oil plan­ta­tion high­lighted

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