Fruit fly monitoring goes high tech

Fruit fly monitoring goes high tech with $1.25M injection to CSIRO's RapidAIM

Horticulture
NEXT GEN: New technology could help improve the efficiency of fruit fly monitoring.

NEXT GEN: New technology could help improve the efficiency of fruit fly monitoring.

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A tech start-up has received $1.5M to help fight fruit fly.

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AN INSECT-monitoring startup has received a $1.25 million funding boost to help protect Australia from its biggest biosecurity barrier to trade – the fruit fly.

Founded by CSIRO researchers Nancy Schellhorn, Darren Moore, and Laura Jones, RapidAIM provides real-time fruit fly detection and monitoring to help Australian producers battle against the devastating pest – and it could revolutionise pest monitoring across the globe.

Main Sequence Ventures, who manage the CSIRO Innovation Fund, is making the $1.25M investment in the startup, which successfully trialled the technology with fruit producers in Vic last year.

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“Growers rely on weather radar and take action accordingly, but until now they haven’t had any pest ‘radar’ to support them against pests like fruit fly,” RapidAIM co-founder and chief executive Dr Schellhorn said.

“Existing fruit fly monitoring relies solely on manual trap checking, which limits the scale and depth of available information and costs valuable resources.”

Existing techniques to monitor fruit fly involve manually checking traps containing pheromones or food to lure the pests in.

The RapidAIM system uses low-powered smart sensors to detect insects like fruit fly from their characteristic movements.

The sensors, which can be placed by the thousands, send data to the cloud using a radio modulated technique, giving producers real-time data flow of the pest on their farms and regions through a linked mobile app.

Dr Schellhorn said the new technology can reduce crop loss and provide early warnings of future pest hotspots.

“Our new technology can reduce the time spent checking traps by more than 35 per cent, and provides an immediate picture of fruit fly presence in specific locations to enable a rapid response for control,” she said.

CLEVER: CSIRO researchers Laura Jones, Nancy Schellhorn and Darren Moore, who are the brains behind real-time fruit fly detection and monitoring system, RapidAIM.

CLEVER: CSIRO researchers Laura Jones, Nancy Schellhorn and Darren Moore, who are the brains behind real-time fruit fly detection and monitoring system, RapidAIM.

CSIRO’s chief executive Larry Marshall said RapidAIM was set to make a huge difference to growers around the world.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we’re committed to solving Australia’s greatest challenges – in this case a more than $300 million cost to Australian fruit and vegetable industry,” Dr Marshall said.

“Taking technology developed inside of CSIRO, turned into a new Aussie startup through our innovation program and the CSIRO Innovation Fund, is a great example of accelerating science solutions to deliver real-world solutions.

“As an accomplished scientist, entrepreneur, and now CEO, Nancy Schellhorn is an inspiration to our next generation of women STEM leaders.”

Dr Schellhorn said the technology had huge potential for managing food and fibre pests globally.

“Around the world, more than 900 million tonnes of insecticide is used to control insect pests every year, but 98 per cent reaches a target other than the intended destination,” Dr Schellhorn said.

ALL SET: RapidAIM's Dr Nancy Schellhorn with one of the fruit fly traps that can monitor and report on insect numbers, directly to a grower's smartphone.

ALL SET: RapidAIM's Dr Nancy Schellhorn with one of the fruit fly traps that can monitor and report on insect numbers, directly to a grower's smartphone.

“With RapidAIM technology, crop-protection products can be used in a more targeted way.”

It’s not the first public outing of RapidAIM. Dr Schellhorn spoke about the technology at a farming technology field day in Bundaberg in May.

Industry, Science and Technology Minister Karen Andrews, said  fruit flies cost Australia’s horticulture sector about $300m a year and could have a major impact on fruit and vegetable growers.

“RapidAIM’s innovations have the potential to transform the way we track and predict fruit fly movements, so our growers have the tools in future growing seasons to protect their crops more effectively,” she said.

“The successful launch of this new company demonstrates the true benefits of investing in Australia’s world-leading research and innovation, supporting small businesses to solve real Australian problems.”

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said the Coalition government also committed $1.35m to fund the trial of the automated smart traps as part of the RapidAIM system.

“The trial will compare the automated traps to the currently used manual traps in locations in SA, WA, NSW, VIC and Tas,” Mr Littleproud said.

LIVE: Showing how the RapidAIM system might look on a smarthphone.

LIVE: Showing how the RapidAIM system might look on a smarthphone.

“The smart traps use lures to attract fruit flies. Females are lured in by food and males by chemicals they think will make them more attractive to female flies.

“Sensors will be able to detect when a fruit fly is in the trap by their characteristic movements and send an alert to a grower’s mobile phone.

“This innovative technology could provide farmers access to real-time data about the presence of fruit fly on their farms and across their regions so they can respond to an outbreak quicker.”

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