Drones Are Now Transforming Malaysia's Palm Oil Industry
Tue, April 20, 2021

Drones Are Now Transforming Malaysia's Palm Oil Industry

Drones are useful in advancing the palm oil industry / Photo Credit: mrfiza (via Shutterstock)

 

Office workers with Genting Plantations Bhd. in Jakarta have been trying to pinpoint the source of the smoke, reported Anuradha Raghu of software company Bloomberg. Drones can fly up to 400 meters in the air collected images above Genting’s oil palms, helping the company “spot fires in remote and inaccessible areas.” It’s part of the palm oil industry’s shift from manual labor to using commercial unmanned aircraft. 

Genting’s senior vice president of plantation advisory Narayanan Ramanathan explained, ”We monitor satellite images twice a day and if there are any hot-spots near our boundaries, we’ll alert the plantation to take action.” If the hot-spots are too far and inaccessible by road, the company will send a drone to check them. 

Yash Doshi, who is responsible for tracking the aerospace and defense sector for Allied Market Research in Pune, India, said in an email that using commercial drones in palm oil plantations is set to “show huge potential” in the coming years. This is due to the growing awareness of precision agriculture and sustainable farming. Government programs, smartphones, and smart technologies also aid in the increased awareness of smart farming. 

Aside from spotting fires, drones can also gather data, which can be used to determine if the crops have “enough water and nutrients” or to detect leakages in irrigation systems. These features make drones the palm oil industry’s “efficiency-boosting boon.” One drone can capture a photo of about 2,500 hectares of oil palms each day, while a human can only cover five hectares, noted William Tao, chief operating officer at Hong Kong-based Insight Robotics Ltd.  

Traditionally, workers walked through dense grass or traverse hilly terrain inhabited by snakes and scorpions under the tropical heat to monitor plantations by sight. The size of plantations and the likelihood of human error can result in unreliable data. So, when data is collected by drones, plantation owners can analyze the images using AI-powered systems, Tao stated. The images can be reviewed by a computer in just four hours. Alternatively, this process would take more than 14 days to complete if humans were involved.         


Aerodyne Group’s CEO Kamarul Azman said that plantation companies can be a little slow in adopting technology. Even so, there is “vast potential” for the palm oil industry to adopt new technology to aid workers in field maintenance and harvesting, Ramanathan said.