By RYAN McCARTHY
It was only a matter of time before another drone company came calling on the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District.
The district garnered significant media attention when North Carolina-based Condor Aerial did an Aug. 26 demonstration flight of an “unmanned autonomous vehicle,” or UAV, it’s trying to sell to the district.
The district is exploring whether infrared cameras on the UAVs could be used to spot shallow pools of water for treatment to control salt marsh mosquitoes.
District Director Michael Doyle said he met with Marathon resident Kevin Brown, a contractor for EnerNex, on Monday. EnerNex is a Tennessee-based national electric power research, engineering and consulting firm.
Brown said he and two other people are in the midst of establishing a startup company called Utility Robotics that he said would be a “spin-off” from EnerNex. He said he’s worked remotely for that company for 10 years as a security researcher.
“Primarily, we’ll be doing work for the utility industry to do line inspections,” he said. “We’re getting developed; we have to prove that what we’re doing is effective.”
Brown’s introduced the district to the DJI Phantom and S800 model “multi-rotor” drones that have numerous small rotors on top of them. Condor’s model has wings and a single rear propeller that resembles a bird in flight.
Brown said if Mosquito Control goes with him, his new company would tailor the drone to carry granular larvicide used to treat the shallow pools where mosquito larvae are found. Condor’s drone would only use infrared thermal video to find the breeding grounds.
“We’re looking to be able to effectively treat areas that are difficult to treat. Depending on distribution rates, we should be able to carry enough granular product to treat a few acres,” Brown said.
The S800, more applicable to Mosquito Control, according to Brown, weighs about 10 pounds and retails for around $6,000. He said it would cost the district less than $10,000 after being modified for mosquito control use.
Condor Aerial’s 2.2-pound drone would cost the district $80,000, including a comprehensive insurance policy and flight training for employees.
Condor’s drone, powered by lithium polymer batteries, has a much longer flight time at 90 minutes. The S800 flies for 15 to 20 minutes, but comes with several rechargeable lithium ion batteries.
In addition, Doyle and Brown spoke about the possibility of an on-the-ground water sensor system to identify mosquito habitat.
“We’re looking at using water sensor networks on the ground that could feed the information directly back to them about water in geographic areas,” Brown said.
No timetable was set, but Brown said within “a couple months” he’d be ready to demo the drones and on-the-ground system for Mosquito Control.