Tuesday, May 17, 2022
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Drone versus swarm

Redfern resident and PhD candidate in the Department of Aerospace, Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at the University of Sydney, Tariq Abuhashim, was recently awarded for his part in a multi-disciplinary project to improve the control of locust plagues.

The project is a collaboration between the University’s School of Biological Sciences and the Australian Centre for Field Robotics (ACFR) and funded by the Australian Plague Locust Commission. Mr Abuhashim’s role involved the application of a new visual sensing technique to track the movement of locusts, for which he received a highly commended award in an imaging technology competition sponsored by imaging business Canon.

The Canon Information Systems Research Australia Pty Ltd (CiSRA) “Extreme Imaging” competition promotes and celebrates local students undertaking research at the intersection of imaging and technology, and winners were announced in February at the Powerhouse Museum. First in the competition was another University of Sydney student, Barnaby Norris, who helped pioneer an imaging technique to detect stellar winds from red giant stars.

Locust plagues have been known throughout history as devastating destroyers of crops. In Australia, extensive locust plague outbreaks cause severe damage to pastures, cereal crops and forage crops. They may also damage vegetable and orchard crops.

The Sydney University locust control project aims to reduce the cost and risks of locust tracking, and to increase the precision of insecticide spraying. “Previously, locust plague movement has been predicted solely by environmental factors such as temperature gradients, wind direction, density of vegetation and terrain variations. These methods are limited and it has also been necessary to track locusts aerially. However, locusts are difficult to see from high altitudes and low-altitude flying is risky and has caused helicopters to crash,” said Mr Abuhashim. “The key to better tracking is to find ways to more accurately map the movement of locusts.”

The solution involved developing a new camera-strobe system for mounting on an unmanned aerial vehicle. To solve the issue of poor locust visibility, small mirrors were glued to locusts, enabling them to reflect the light from the strobe and be tracked through their life cycle by the camera. The images collected by Mr Abuhashim at the ACFR field research facility at Marulan are now being used by biologists who are expert in locust physiology and ecology to develop a mathematical model of locust movement.

Speaking of Mr Abuhashim and the other awardees, as well as of the quality of entries generally to the Extreme Imaging competition, General Manager of the Image and Video Research Centre at CiSRA Geoff Woolfe said: “It’s a privilege for Canon to be able to support the next generation of leading Australian scientists.”

Full-scale locust control trials using the model developed by Mr Abuhashim and his colleagues are scheduled for November.

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