Chinese drone specialist XAG is well known as the world’s largest manufacturer of flying agricultural drones, now their autonomous ground vehicle – the XAG R150 – has gone on sale in Japan. This follows the debut demonstration of the R150 as an unmanned pollinator in Japan’s Nagano prefecture earlier this year.
The XAG R150 features an on-board JetSprayer system which can be used to pollinate fruit trees. A specially mixed solution of pollen is poured into the R150’s liquid tank before it is sent on a predetermined route around an orchard to autonomously spray pollen on to each tree’s blossoms. An R150 operator is able to adjust the spray angle and spread width from distance by using a smartphone app.
During the recent demonstration the R150 specifically pollinated Japanese Sun Fuji apple trees. Sun Fuji is a dwarf variety of apple tree, orchard growers traditionally plant them in densely packed rows to save space. Typically these trees are pollinated by hand to ensure maximum crop yields – a time consuming and also time pressing task, made more difficult as the trees grow to their maximum heights with dependence on ladders adding to the farmer’s burdens.
XAG estimates that with the introduction of its R150 ground vehicle, a single row of apple trees can be pollinated in just ten minutes, compared to the average hand pollination time of two hours. Across a large-scale orchard the overall job of pollen spraying could be reduced to a very short period indeed.
In addition to the benefits of saved time and labour, XAG’s ground pollination vehicle improves worker safety by removing the need for ladders whilst also undertaking the pollination task often missed by natural pollinators. The Japanese government estimates that the number of bee swarms in Japan has declined by 40% over the past nine years, this despite an increase in domestically owned beehives of approximately 15% (to 200,000 hives). The idea of applying ground robots for fruit tree pollination is a bold attempt to deal with Japan’s pollination crisis.
XAG set up its Japanese subsidiary in 2016 – since then XAG Japan has scaled up its agricultural drone sales to over 28 Japanese cities with applications live across more than 10 crop varieties. With the average age of Japanese farmers having reached over 60 the Chinese company says its aim is to help the aging Japanese farmer embrace advanced technologies, whilst bringing young people back to the villages to engage in the business of agriculture.