2017 featured research

Our research focuses on the practical use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems in agriculture. We partner with academic, state and federal researchers to explore the applications and limitations of UAS in the National Airspace System. M3 Consulting Group is internationally recognized as a leader in the development of UAS in the area of Sterile Insect Technique and more broadly in Area-Wide Integrated Pest Management applications.

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Swarm sterile insect technique (United states)

Fruit Fly aerial release is currently the largest SIT effort in USDA-APHIS and uses conventional aircraft. Recently, we have used UAS in successful releases of pink bollworm with studies showing the sustained vitality and longevity of the insects post-release. Swarm technology, flying multiple UAS at once, may offer a means to approach the volume of insects released by conventional aircraft while offering reduced cost, risk, and time to deployment. When cloud ceilings are below minimum insect release heights, and conventional fixed wing aircraft are grounded due to inclement weather or Visual Flight Rules limitations, UAS may be able to complete flight missions to disperse sterile Mexican Fruit Flies into south Texas citrus groves. Current ground release methods using truck-mounted air blast equipment have been shown to provide uneven distributions of sterile flies, with large accumulations of flies around the grove/road interfaces.  UAS offers an alternative means and more uniform distribution of fruit flies than ground releases.

After the successful release of sterile pink bollworm during the summer of 2015, M3 Consulting Group began exploring other applications of UAS. Recently, the refinement of autopilot technologies for use with small UAS applications led to the possibility of using several UAS to autonomously fly as a “swarm” to achieve greater coverage and address payload limitations. Swarm technology provides control and monitoring of several UAS from a single computer and pilot. During the summer of 2017, We will assess how UAS and swarm technology may supplement the release of sterile fruit flies and other sterile insects.

Area Wide pink bollworm eradication program rapid response (united states)

Since 2014, M3 Consulting Group has Investigated the use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems (UAS) as a rapid response tool in support of the Area-Wide Pink Bollworm Eradication Program. During the summer of 2015, M3 Consulting Group, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture drafted and received a Certificate of Authorization (COA) and developed the M3 Desert Cardinal UAS. The M3 Desert Cardinal successfully released sterile pink bollworm - the first use of UAS for release of sterile insects in world history. The M3 Desert Cardinal was deployed during the summer of 2015 to eliminate small-scale outbreaks of PBW as soon as an incursion was detected (Moses-Gonzales and Walters 2015). The fixed wing UAS was successfully flew over 100 flights, released healthy, active sterile PBW, and was less expensive than its manned counterpart.

During 2016, M3 developed a Vertical Takeoff and Landing (VTOL) UAS to increase ease of use in the field when releasing sterile insects.  M3 Consulting Group also developed advanced handling, transport and release methods. These methods eliminated up to four handling points from lab to field, which may increase field performance.  The 2016 VTOL UAS has eight motors, takes approximately 90 seconds to set up and can release sterile insects within five minutes of arriving at the field site. the system is fully autonomous, from takeoff thru release and landing. The VTOL UAS can respond rapidly to a detection of wild type PBW and is deployable anywhere within the United States PBW eradication zone.

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proof of concept: release of Sterile codling moth via uas (canada)

Native to Europe and accidentally introduced to British Columbia during the 1900’s, codling moth inflicts damage on pear and apple orchards. A lepidoptera, codling moth is among the most economically costly and destructive pests in the world. In order to reduce the damage and cost associated with this invasive exotic pest the mass rearing of sterile codling moth began in 1992 with the first release of sterile codling moth occurring during 1994.

During 2015, the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program, M3 Consulting Group and New Zealand Plant and Food conducted studies to assess the efficacy and impact of UAS on the release of sterile codling moth. This study resulted in a 47% increase in sterile moth recapture rates achieved via UAS compared to conventional ground release methods.

M3 Consulting Group and the Okanagan-Kootenay Sterile Insect Release Program will continue to advance this technology during the summer of 2017.