A Queensland vineyard says it's the first in the country to use drones in combination with a specialised sound recognition technology to deter birds from its crops.
Bird scaring drones have been used in Australian agriculture for years, but Stanthorpe winery Heritage Estate is taking the approach a step further, using complex software and hardware to save its grapes from ruin.
Owners Robert and Therese Fenwick have been losing grapes to various species of birds for years.
Last year it was currawongs. This year it is Indian mynas.
Typically, they start to have a problem from mid-January through to the final picking, which can be as late as May.
They have been using a stationary sound machine which plays eight different predator sounds in one end of the vineyard and flying a consumer grade drone with a speaker that emits the same sounds elsewhere.
Not happy with how labour intensive the strategy is, they have taken it up a notch.
"We want to have microphone sensors out in the vineyard that pick up the bird processing in real time and say you have bird 'x' in that part of the vineyard," Mr Fenwick said.
"And because we now understand the patterns we need to fly to move the birds out, we could pre-program those and have the system launch the drone and execute.
"As the law stands, you can't have an automated drone, but that will change in the next couple of years, because there's more and more automation coming along. Our aim is to make sure I don't have to drive that drone."
Working on the sound processing is SoundID co-founder Neil Boucher.
Mr Boucher, an electronic, civil and mechanical engineer, worked at Telstra and a division of the UN before helping to develop the technology about 12 years ago.
Originally designed to help university bird researchers looking for endangered species, it has also been used to assist Queensland's Environmental Protection Agency (now Department of Environment and Science) to find a rare parrot.
SoundID uses recorders that can record for months and computer software to analyse those recordings.
It uses the linear predictive coding transform in combination with a patented, mathematically-based similarity technique called geometric distance.
Mr Boucher said while the technology was originally designed to detect birds, it could be used to detect any sound.
"It's very general. It can be used for any noise, such as speech or machinery sounds," Mr Boucher said.
"Specialised speech software can do speech, and it can do it really well, but it can't do what we can.
"This software can tell apart a currawong here from a currawong that's come from 20 kilometres away, because they actually have a slightly different accent."
The first stage is to recognise what birds are in the vineyard.
Robert and Neil record bird noises in the vineyard, plug them into a computer and use reference files to try to match them up so they can reliably pick the species.
"[We're] trying to train that recognition process for this vineyard and then we'd know how to repeat it for other vineyards and then potentially for other industries. And then you use that as part of the system that triggers and flies drones. It's not been used for agriculture yet," Mr Fenwick said.
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