AIRBORNE drone technology is being developed to monitor the world’s longest fence, which is used as a feral pest barrier in outback Australia.
Largely located in remote, central Australia, the Dingo Fence runs continuously for 5400 kilometres - more than twice the length of the Great Wall of China - to protect grazing livestock from wild dogs and the native dingo population.
Landowners spend more than $7000 a year each on wild dog management while the total financial cost to agricultural industries in the sector was estimated at $66 million in 2004.
The drones will be developed in South Australia, at the University of Adelaide’s Unmanned Research Aircraft Facility (URAF).
South Australian Minister for Agriculture Leon Bignell said $100,000 would go towards a trial on the use of drones.
“Feral animals and pests like wild dogs destroy infrastructure and livestock and their numbers are growing as they move further south across pastoral land,’’ he said.
“The use of drones to inspect fences will save time, money and effort.’’
Deputy director of the URAF, Dr Ramesh Raja Segaran said they plan to have two drones flying along the fence within three months.
“It will require extensive research before we get to that stage,’’ he said.
“Identifying the best suited unmanned aircraft to be used, such as rotor or fixed wing drones, the potential limitations of the craft and the height the craft will fly at are just some of the questions will need to answer before we launch the drones.’’
It is likely the two drones will be powered by lithium polymer batteries and have flight times between 15-60 minutes. A technician will need to be nearby to replace batteries and monitor the craft
Dr Segaran said the drones will target identified problem areas along the fence.
“The drones will be fitted with light weight cameras and heat imaging technology to monitor the fence and hopefully also any wild dogs in the area which may help to indicate weak spots within the fence line,” he said.
The drones could be remotely controlled or use automated flight plans to carry out their inspections and may conduct night flights.
“There will be a lot of learning as we go as we create the most effective outcome,’’ Dr Segaran said.
“We will be working on the cutting edge of this technology as we pose and answer questions and overcome obstacles to find quality solutions.”