This interview details Corvus Drones, a Controlled-environment Agriculture (CEA) technology company based in the Netherlands.. The interview is with Frans-Peter Dechering, CCO & Founder of Corvus Drones.
Corvus Drones started in 2019 combining the drives of the two founders. Gerhold ten Voorde (founder-CTO) was experienced in developing autonomous vehicles in various industries. He was triggered by the fact that indoor drones were not able to fly autonomously. The drive of Frans-Peter Dechering (founder-CCO) is his fascination with digitizing plant growth in professional greenhouse operations.
This leads to the Corvus dot on the horizon: Digitizing every plant in every greenhouse all over the world. To achieve this, drones should be accessible for many crops, affordable for growers, and easy to use. In other words, it’s about democratizing this technology.
The biggest challenge is to identify uniform crops and generic use cases. The drones monitor plant growth and health. The diversity in plants and applications is huge and focus is crucial. This is one of the reasons that Corvus Drones collaborates with third-party computer vision companies for image recognition. The drone is the data collection device, via a cloud API the footage is shared with third parties and the reporting to growers is via the Corvus Cloud. Through this kind of collaboration, expertise in crops, pests & diseases, and autonomous data capture by drones is bundled.
Another big challenge is to get innovation adopted by growers and their teams. Data-driven growth is a new era and requires new knowledge from every involved person. Involvement of crop teams and getting the right knowledge with the team is crucial. This is a collaborative assignment for all innovative agtech companies.
Many technological solutions are available for crop data collection by means of plant-related data. One can install static cameras, which seems low cost, but it isn’t when a whole greenhouse should be monitored. And in Northern America the first legal objections are arising, because these cameras also monitor people, which is not desirable.
Mounting cameras on spray or irrigation booms is an option. But from a crop monitoring perspective, these devices are at the wrong place at the wrong time. Rail mounted moving cameras are a good solution but expensive to install and maintain.
Autonomous flying drones are the most agile and cost-efficient devices for crop monitoring perspectives. There is no modification in the greenhouse infrastructure needed and implementation can be done as a DIY activity. It’s time-saving because one can operate the drone from anywhere and schedule flights for instance.
The uniqueness of the Corvus Drones is that these drones fly by camera navigation because in greenhouses GPS signals are too weak to use. Automating the whole loop from flying, and data-collection to reporting, no human interaction, is a high-tech masterpiece. So far, worldwide no other drone company is commercially active in greenhouse horticulture.
The competitive advantage is also the suite of available applications. Growth monitoring is available for every crop and grower. Seed germination and usable plant monitoring are used by breeders and young plant producers. For lettuce growers additional applications are gutter alignment, aphid & caterpillar detection, crop anomaly detection, and measurement of butterhead lettuce. Yield prediction for rose growers is going to be launched in the first quarter of 2024.
In general and worldwide, labor shortage is a key driving force for growers to get digital instead of human crop monitoring tools. It’s about labor savings, but more importantly, do growers have the labor available?
Many growers have direct retail delivery contracts and these contracts are getting tighter and tighter. Managing one’s supply chain is essential which means matching production and demand. The past prediction accuracy is too low and by large-scale crop data collection, the accuracy can be improved by over 25%.
Early detection of pests and diseases is a holy grail for growers because of sustainability demands and the lack of environmentally friendly pesticides. Human scouting is not efficient and effective anymore. People are not working 24/7 and technology does.
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