Japanese drones lift off to track livestock

By Kathryn Wortley

- Last updated on GMT

The drones were developed at Japan's Saga University and cost up to $8,000
The drones were developed at Japan's Saga University and cost up to $8,000
A drone designed to make life easier for livestock farmers has been launched in Japan, with developers eyeing global sales in the future. 

Created in partnership with Tokyo-based IT company OPTiM and the agriculture faculty at Saga University, AgriDrone is an initiative also supported by the prefecture and city of Saga, on Kyushu, Japan’s southernmost main island.

Using video analysis software to detect colours, the drone can check for grazing areas with dead grass. It can also monitor a grazing area, sending real-time alerts if livestock leave a designated area or a predator is detected. The drone’s thermal camera also flags animals with an abnormal body temperature during rutting, illness or pregnancy.

OPTiM is also testing “how to effectively utilise a network of cameras, sensors and other connected devices on a farm​”, said Leslie James, head of business promotion at the company. “We have created a solution called Cloud IoT OS, which allows for data collection, analysis and AI [artificial intelligence] on a single platform.”

Soaring interest

Through this system, explained James, alerts on livestock health issues, found via drone or camera, can be recorded for later checking or sent to a user’s phone. The software also allows farmers to see workers in the fields via a smart comms system and give them instructions remotely: a service likely to be in demand given the average age of Japan’s farmers is now 67.

Professor Keiichi Watanabe, dean of the faculty of agriculture at Saga University, said there had been much interest in the technology among livestock farmers.

The drone makes it easier to take care of cows reared outdoors,​” he explained. “By using infrared rays, it can detect each cow individually and monitor its activity level, appetite and temperature to establish its general health and even when it will give birth. This will help ensure no cow births unattended, which is very dangerous.​”

AgriDrone, which costs Japanese Yen JPY500,000 to JPY1 million ($4,230 to $8,460), went on sale in late November. The city government of Saga is providing its local farmers with financial subsidies to buy an AgriDrone, while Saga University is working with the national government to implement similar schemes nationwide.

Professor Watanabe also has plans for the technology to be made available outside Japan. “We see the value in AgriDrone for people worldwide and want to sell it overseas, too,” he said.

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