> DRONES SET TO HOVER INTO PALM OIL INDUSTRY
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