Scientists will explore using drone-mounted lasers to blast weeds causing a billion-dollar headache for farmers in a new "map-and-zap" project.
With recent research putting the annual cost of weeds to productive land at $1.6 billion or higher, the agriculture sector urgently needed environmentally-friendly tools to get them under control.
Now, a new AgResearch-led, million-dollar programme may find the answer in drones.
"The idea is to mount specialist cameras on the drone or UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) that can first identify the weeds based on their unique chemical signatures and how they reflect light, and precisely map their locations using GPS," explained programme leader Dr Kioumars Ghamkhar, of AgResearch.
"From there, we think smart spraying, or the right kind of laser mounted on the drone could hone in and damage the weed.
"We know there are lasers now available that could be suitable, and that they are extremely accurate, so if lasers are used, it would also avoid damaging the useful plants around the weed."
Current methods for tackling weeds could be very expensive and time-consuming, and often involve chemicals which can impact on crops, soil quality or water sources, Ghamkhar said.
"We want to develop something that could be an efficient option for users such as farmers, regional councils and the Department of Conservation.
"We've already spoken with our collaborators in the universities about the lasers that are available that might be suitable."
The effectiveness of lasers against plants had been tested overseas before, but only in the lab.
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