A startup called Dropcopter from Syracues, NY has designed a drone specifically for pollinating fruit trees. The drone has six motors and it has been used to successfully pollinate trees on cherry, almond and apple orchards in multiple states. The startup aims to be more effective than bees. Using unguided insects to pollinate orchards comes with a lot of uncertainties. Whereby using drones can increase the rate of pollination by up to 50%. Farmers that have relied for centuries on the work of bees now have a pollination tool that they can control.
Bees have always been an important part of apple farming because of how they pollinate the flowers. Trees with flowers that bloom to bear fruit first require the pollen to be moved from the male parts of the plant to the female parts. Before the implementation of the Dropcopter, farmers would have to pay to truck bees in and keep them on the orchard for several weeks at a time. The issue with this method is that the bees have a hive-mind of their own and only interact with the flowers that they want to interact with. The bees also don’t fly at night or when it’s cold, even if that is the best time to pollinate the trees. This leads to a high level of inefficiency.
The Dropcopter, in comparison, is always ready to go. It carries the pollen by using an electrostatic device attached to its undercarriage. The pollen is positively charged up by the device before it disperses so that it is drawn to the moist blooms which are grounded. The downwash caused by the drone’s rotors help to disperse the pollen even wider.
An important part of the Dropcopter’s success is in making sure that the pollen is released exactly 10 feet above the canopy of trees. Many of New York’s orchards are not on ground level which means that using GPS or a barometer will not be good enough for finding the correct altitude. The Dropcopter works around this problem by using custom software that is able to preview orchards and work out a specific path over them. Dropcopter is being very secretive about how exactly they got their software to do this. The developers at the Syracuse startup are confident that demand for their Dropcopter will rise. They will easily be able to step up their production because the parts are easy to find and they already know how to create customized flying drones.