A NEW tool in the fight against invasive pests and feral animals - military-grade drone technology - is under trial in northern NSW.
The man behind the plan said drones brought exciting technology to the feral fight, efficient thermal imaging detection which could be relayed to operators in real time.
Ninox Robotics managing director Marcus Ehrlich, Sydney, had a central premise that it was possible to take military-grade drones, or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) and apply them to civilian problems, specifically invasive pests.
"Implementing this trial has been a massive undertaking, working with Australian aviation regulators to test our UAV's capabilities above and beyond what has been done in this field to date," Mr Ehrlich said.
"A drone-related project of this scale has never been conducted by a civilian company in Australia, and we believe it's the first application of its kind for UAV technology in agriculture anywhere in the world."
He said the drone's capability was a good match for the size and scale of the invasive pest problem because it made short work of performing surveys across large areas.
"If I could take that information and provide it to people who knew what to do with it, there could be better results," he said.
"We needed to test it to find the right system that would tick the boxes both in terms of cost and capability."
He came across an Israel-based company Bluebird Aero Systems, which supplies the drones to Ninox Robotics.
Trials using the UAVs have been taking place in the past few weeks in southern Queensland, on farms and national parks near Moonie, and in northern NSW near Walcha.
Mr Ehrlich said the UAVs had the advantage of only requiring 150 metres of space to launch from any location.
After trials are completed, and pending regulatory approval, there are plans to commercialise and offer the service to government bodies and landholder groups in the fight against feral animals.
"I see it providing the next cutting-edge intelligence in real time to help manage this problem," Mr Ehrlich said.
He said this type of technology would prove particularly useful in difficult terrain and inaccessible areas.
"I think we can do everything that others can do, but we can do it more efficiently," he said.
Initial feedback from landholders has been positive.
"A lot of people are quite impressed by what we are able to accomplish," Mr Ehrlich said.
The UAVs in the trial have a fuselage of more than one metre, a wingspan of almost 3m, and top airspeed of 120 kilometres per hour.
They have the capability to cover up to 100 square kilometres in a four hour flight time.
They also have a camera that can switch between normal visual spectrum and far infrared, or thermal, sight.
The thermal imaging camera has the ability to identify pests in several terrain types, day and night.