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Aerospace company working to protect tree canopy using drone technology

Drones and trees may not seem like the perfect combination, but one company is hoping to use the flying remote-controlled aircraft to protect tree's health.

Volatus Aerospace is working on using drones to help identify Dutch elm disease in trees.

"The objective of this project…is to identify trees within the urban canopy – not just in Winnipeg but around southern Manitoba and across anywhere that elm trees are present and affected with Dutch elm disease – and we are trying to basically be able to identify the disease earlier than it is typically able to be identified," said Matthew Johnson, the vice president of education and agriculture programming with Volatus.

Johnson said Dutch elm disease was first found in the province in the 1970s and the signs of the disease are usually noticeable in the late summer, early fall.

According to Trees Winnipeg, since 2016, the city has lost 33,000 elm trees to the disease.

Johnson said when crews usually inspect for the disease, they have to drive around communities, mark trees that they suspect have the disease and then come back and take samples to determine if they are right.

He said the process is costly and time consuming.

"We're trying to do it late spring and we're basically trying to identify the disease two months before it has been traditionally been able to be identified. And if we are able to do that then we should be able to come up with plans to get ahead of the disease."

He added in Kildonan Park alone there are roughly 4,400 trees and around 700 are elm trees.

In 2021, he said 39 trees were identified to have Dutch elm disease in the park and noted it would have taken crews a few days to identify each tree and do sampling. With the drones, he said they were able to fly through the entire park in an hour and a half.

"So if we can fly it in an hour and a half and use our machine learning algorithm that we're developing to be able to identify those trees that are diseased or at least potentially to have the disease, then we cut down on that whole time that it takes to go do the ground-based assessment."

Johnson said the key to eradicating the disease it to get ahead of it and he hopes the drone project will help with that.

He added he is hopeful that municipalities across Canada and North America join forces with Volatus to help protect tree canopies from the disease in the future. Top Stories

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