Drones against pests

Unmanned aerial vehicles are a modern trend, and the scope for their use is constantly expanding. Their models are also being improved with added flight range, lifting power, and functionality. Vasily Lukashov, drone developer and CEO of FIXAR, shared how his inventions can be used in pest control and how his drones differ from other types of UAVs.

Hobby turned profession

Any hobby I ever had turned into professional occupation sooner or later, and I always had to look for a new hobby,” Vasily Lukashov jokes.

A passionate aircraft modeler at school, he later began to design do-it-yourself kits and launched their commercial production at Penguin Hobby Market. That led to development of long-distance FPV (video-piloted) aircraft, and finally full-fledged autonomous unmanned aerial vehicles.

After working for some time as a project manager at the Geoscan group of companies, in August 2017, Vasily Lukashov decided to quit and, together with his former colleagues from Penguin, established Innovative Integrated Systems to develop FIXAR unmanned aerial vehicles.

Patenting ideas

The company makes aircraft according to its own patented technology. Over two years, RUR 40 mio ($627K) have been invested in the project, including the founders’ own funds and third-party financing.

“Every integrated product is a new patentable system. This is ultimate import substitution,” Vasily says. 

Currently, the company has three diverse products, a vertical take-off and landing aircraft (FIXAR 05 and 07), a drone for exploration of indoor and remote areas (FIXAR INDOOR) and an educational project that focuses on unmanned aircraft assembly and piloting, drawings for individual 3D printing and non-printable components (FIXAR EDU). 

The company’s flagship product is an unmanned aviation system based on a proprietary VTOL design and an innovative technology. In most cases vertical take-off and landing requires propellers. However, this makes unmanned aircraft too energy-consuming and reduces flying range. 

FIXAR engineers corrected this weakness by using wings instead of propellers. Unlike other drones, the model does not require a runway for a horizontal start. The special design of its wings and engine allows the aircraft to take off and land vertically within the accuracy of one meter. FIXAR can also fly in the areas of magnetic anomalies, which is not yet available to other UAVs. 

Another distinctive performance characteristic of FIXAR 05 is its ability to hover and then continue straight-line motion. The drone’s power reserve is also two to three times higher than that of similar solutions based on quadrotors. The takeoff weight of the drone is 5 kg, while the entire system, including the ground control station weighs some 10 kg. The company had to develop their own autopilot and the ground control station from scratch in order to ensure the most efficient operation of the complex aerodynamic system of the drone. 

“This is a fully autonomous industrial drone, which can be operated using a single button. You layout a route, turn the drone on, press Start and the UAV will do the rest: it will take off, follow the route and then land,” Vasily says. 

Anyone can learn how to manage a FIXAR drone in no time: no specialized training is needed.

The average cost of the flagship drone is RUR 855K ($13K). It includes the full set with a ground control station and a camera. The indoor UAV costs some RUR 100K including equipment; the educational project starts at RUR 35K ($550).

The project reached the breakeven point quite quickly: the market welcomed the new brand and the company was able to meet the market demand in UAVs. The company currently employs 20 people, while a number of tasks are outsourced. The company is based in St Petersburg; the headquarters accommodate the management, production facilities, as well as the maintenance and marketing divisions. Sales and investment consulting services are provided from Moscow. 

Protecting plants and more

The developers switched from prototypes to making real operating UAVs. As soon as in 2017-2018, FIXAR drones were used for plant fertilization and biosecurity. Drones are also used to release trichogramma wasps (parasites for the control of heliothis and other caterpillar pests) in fields. Unlike traditional chemical pesticides, these wasps are safe for people and animals, and are much cheaper. The trichogrammas are released during the short period when pests have already laid their eggs but caterpillars have not appeared from them yet.

The Russian Agricultural Center (Rosselkhoztsentr) is one of the largest clients of the company. In 2019, FIXAR drones treated 2.5K hectares of agricultural land. One UAV is capable of covering 50 hectares in just one hour. The company plans to increase the area by 700% next year.

FIXAR’s abilities are not limited to agriculture. These UAVs can also deliver cargoes, mail, medicines, small parcels etc., to remote areas. For instance, in November 2018, they made an experimental delivery of newspapers to an Udmurtian village. The drone covered 5 km above the Kama River. If the mail is delivered by car, it had to cover as many as 70 km one-way.

The delivery of medicines by drones to remote counties can save lives. Such deliveries will be much cheaper and will not require maintaining a car fleet. Drones can also be used to take images and real-time monitoring of construction sites, road infrastructure and natural objects.

Despite its young age, FIXAR has already filled its niche in Russia. The company’s further plans call for entering foreign markets.

By Christina Firsova

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