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This Drone Hunts Down Apple Disease

These drones are striking against a different kind of enemy: apple scab

Drones are in the news almost daily, usually as part of some military action. But here’s an example of drones are striking against a different kind of enemy: apple scab.

Apple scab is a lot like what it sounds like–scabs that happen on apples. It’s actually a fungal infection, and while it doesn’t make the apple taste bad, it makes them much harder to sell. In some parts of the United States, apple scab is the biggest enemy an apple farmer faces. So how can drones help? Rachel Rohr at Modern Farmer explains:

But it is possible with a small unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), or drone, carrying an infrared camera that takes multispectral images of the orchard. A computer program crunches the wavelengths in each pixel, making it possible to hone in on colors and temperatures – and locate apple scab.

Identifying scab early can help farmers stop it from spreading to nearby trees, and apply fungicides early before an outbreak spreads.

This isn’t the first time drones have been deployed on farms. NOVA imagines how drones could play a huge part in future agriculture:

Small drones will hover from plant to plant, dropping just enough fertilizer or spraying exactly the right amount of pesticide. In some places, that future is nearer than others. Drones are already used in Japan to treat small areas that are impractical or impossible to reach in a large, fuel-guzzling tractor.

And tiny, hovering drones probably are easier to control than tiny, hovering bees, which scientists are also thinking could deliver pesticides more surgically. Bees also aren’t so great at transmitting data back to their handlers—a skill that drones excel at.

More from Smithsonian.com:

Iranian Schools May Soon Teach “Drone Hunting”
This Drone Can Fit In Your Palm

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About Rose Eveleth
Rose Eveleth

Rose Eveleth is a writer for Smart News and a producer/designer/ science writer/ animator based in Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Scientific American, Story Collider, TED-Ed and OnEarth.

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