An innovation and technology company with a track record for coming up with high-tech solutions to industry problems has just claimed another win in this year’s Ag Tech Hackathon competition. Richard Rennie spoke to company heads Matthew van der Werff and Terry Southern about their device that has the brown marmorated stink bug, among others, firmly in its sights.
A piece of kit offering a one-stop solution for identifying, attracting and killing the brown marmorated stink bug is timely, given the bug’s top-line status on New Zealand’s list of least-wanted pests.
The bug has already laid waste to Italy’s fruit sector, doing almost half a billion Euros worth of damage a year to pear, hazelnut and kiwifruit crops and is now tapping on the door of Europe’s largest apple-growing area in northern Italy.
Terry Southern, Matthew van der Werff and Aaron Fulton work for Manawatu tech consulting company Beta Solutions.
It has a proven track record in technology that includes agri-tech, where they have developed products such as electric fence fault detectors, LED lighting devices for horticulture and Internet of Things tank monitoring systems for farmers.
Taking part in the Ag Tech Hackathon gave them the chance to apply the product development knowledge they have developed and apply it to deliver an industry solution.
“There is always the appeal that we can come up with our own solution and potentially take that forward under our own company portfolio,” Southern says.
The technology involved in the solution, with the working title Bugkilla, combines technologies that draw from areas of pest control and artificial intelligence.
“The challenge was to work through how we could package these components into a product where they work together.”
The Bugkilla uses pheromones and light waves to attract the stink bugs into a chamber.
The bug crawls in and a camera identifies if it is a stink bug. If it is, a fan draws the bug up to an electric grating and zaps it then ejects the dead bug.
Pulling the pieces of technology together for this project includes fine-tuning some AI tech linked to the camera sensor. Essentially, the system is taught to identify the particular bug by being shown hundreds of images of it.
The developers sats it is not limited to the stink bug. A suite of pests could be identified as potential candidates for the fatal trap.
Luring different bugs would require different light spectrums to attract them along with different pheromones.
Power is delivered to the trap through a small solar panel charging a lithium battery supplying some low power electronic systems. The higher energy kill apparatus fires up once a bug enters.
A valuable feature is the ability of the trap to load data to the cloud.
“This means if you had an incursion and were trying to monitor the spread of the pest you can quickly geo-map locations and spread by having a network of the traps out there,” van der Werff says.
The stink bug challenge was offered by Zespri.
Mentor and challenger Mark Graham, Zespri’s innovation leader for orchard technology, said he is excited to work with a team to develop the solution further as part of a Zespri-funded project.
The competition was staged in a covid lockdown environment.
Ministry for Primary Industries event judge Cheyne Gillooly said the turnout was impressive despite competitors not having easy access to their usual resources and the short time frame on the event’s turnaround.
The event attracted 119 people and received 13 entries from around New Zealand, double what is normally received.
The Beta Solutions team will spend coming weeks considering their options for how best to move from their present preliminary design to a more advanced prototype and ultimately to commercial production.
“Matt and I are pretty passionate about developing real products that solve real problems. This was one of those projects that really ticked all the boxes for us” Southern said.