NAT 200314 DRONE2233-1584175474328
A Khalifa University-developed drone that can pollinate a million palm trees Image Credit: Khalifa University

Abu Dhabi: Students of Khalifa University in Abu Dhabi have developed a drone that can help pollinate millions of palm trees in the country.

The process is currently done manually but the ‘Pollination Drone’ makes it easier, faster and cuts down on manual labour by 60 per cent, while maximising yield and financial benefits for local farmers.

Alya Al Hammadi, a 24-year-old Khalifa University student, who contributed towards the drone’s creation, said, “The aim of this project is to select a drone that could achieve the goal of pollinating palm trees with the aid of a stable and robust drone.”

NAT 200314 DRONE22-1584175472576
The Khalifa University-developed drone can cut labour by 60 per cent Image Credit: Khalifa University

The pollination drone will be able to determine the gender of the palm trees by detecting the already-existing X or O marks on the trees, detect the pollination area of the female tree and spray a pollen powder on it, she said.

Currently, the UAE have more than 44 million palm trees which represent nearly 199 different types and produce more than 76,000 tonnes of dates. In 2009, the UAE ranked first in Guinness Book of World Records to host the largest number of palm trees, where the number of palm trees were more than 40 million.

Al Hammadi said, “An image processor would be used to detect the marks on the trees and, hence, distinguish between the two gender types. The drone should operate either manually or autonomously by an onboard controller.”

Another student, Fatema Al Beshr, 23, said, “This project was undertaken for several reasons; one of them is to increase the productivity of dates that constitutes part of the heritage and identity of the Emirates. Also, it will make a major difference for the farmers, because it will be able to give farmers more control on issues of pollination.”

NAT 200314 PALM TREES-1584175477500
The drone will reduce reliance upon manual labour by 60 per cent Image Credit: Supplied

Therefore, it represents an alternative method for pollination with higher efficiency, speed, robustness and lower cost, she said.

Asked when it could be put to work, she replied, “We don’t have a commercial drone yet so we can’t provide it to farmers, but the pollination drone can work in other aspects of farming too. If you can spray pollen you can spray anything else.”

Although they don’t yet have a commercial platform yet, the five students who created the drone under the supervision of Dr Reyad El Khazali from the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Khalifa University worked in collaboration with the UAE’s first Remotely Piloted Aircraft (PRA) training and certification specialists; Sanad Academy, which is endorsed by the Dubai Civil Aviation Authority.

They estimate the cost of the drone to be around Dh7,000.

NAT Statistics of pollination by drone-1584175475736
Statistics of pollination by drone Image Credit: Khalifa University

How does pollination by drone work?

The pollination drone is a quad-copter drone implemented to enhance the quality of date production by using the air pollination method with the aid of an Unmanned Arial vehicle. It undertakes three stages including: take-off, detection, and action. After the drone is ahead of the tree for a specific distance, it detects whether a tree is female or male; a female tree is labeled by a green X sign, while a male tree is labeled by a red O sign. An image processor is used to distinguish the female tree to start the action of pollination.