Zayed University Bags first prize at the ISCES Student Contest in China

02 Jul 2019

Zayed University students research paper was awarded the First prize out of 400 different participations during the 2019 International Student Conference on Environment and Sustainability (ISCES 2019), which was held recently in Shanghai, China.

The project entitled "Utilizing Drones as a Green Technology for Smart Date Palm Tree Pollination: A Case Study Applied in UAE" was undertaken by the student, Alyaa Al Remeithi and her group from the College of Natural and Health Sciences (CNHS) at ZU.

This project held in cooperation between ZU and the Innovation and Research department of Falcon Eye Drones and International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (Dubai), aims to allow the student design, develop and test a full-scale industrial prototype of a drone that will assist for palm tree pollination.

Moreover, the project aims to save time, effort, cost, and potentially physical –biological health risks to workers, as well as to increase the productivity of dates in UAE. This project will be achieved via drones as an innovative and environmentally friendly technology that will help to recognize, at the right time, the palm trees which should be pollinated first and then pollen-bomb them.

Dr. Fares Al Howari, Dean of CNHS, believes that the conference will be beneficial to promoting awareness, capacity, and networking amongst students, as future leaders, policy makers, and activists and updating them of recent challenges and developments in the area of environment and sustainability.

"The project that won the first prize at Tonji University was a joint project with our Industrial supervisor Dr. Ali Batty from the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and the utilized drone-powered solutions by Falcon Eye. The main project yielded senior projects for Fatima Al Hamadi, Alyaa Al Remethi, and Fardous Al Hashmi."

Al Howari said that Robotic assistance in the artificial pollination process by using Drones has the potential to relieve and raise the efficiency of the arduous and expensive process of hand pollination, which continues in a variety of contexts. "The reason why this research is important to the UAE is that it is one of the 10-top dates producers in the world. UAE produces 533,701 metric tons annually. Moreover, the gene pool of palm trees is large in the UAE and composes about 120 date varieties," he said.

Dr. Yousef Nazzal, Professor, and Chair of the Life & Environmental Sciences Department at ZU, who guided the students throughout the project, said, "By using this method, the production of dates would increase. Also, due to the scorching weather in the flowering seasons for palm trees, which coincidently meets the hottest period in the year, this method would make the work done while the farmers are controlling the drones from indoors. This idea would help the occupational health and their safety," he said.  

Nazzal added that the conventional Palm Tree Pollination process would be carefully studied in order to introduce drones, as green and smart technology, whenever relevant and efficient. "In this project, we performed a thorough and comprehensive analysis to come with viable and relevant solutions in order to suggest a more efficient and innovative solution in the felid of palm pollination. We tested our designed drones symbolized as mechanical pollination at a real experimental palm tree plantation while developing and adapting drones technology to reflect the study findings."

"I am confident enough that my students will be able to take this model up-a-notch and start their business post-graduation. The University shall fund their project and guide them with all necessary means to pursue a career in the green-technologies to serve the environment and the community. Their project comes in line with the country's 2021 visions, and the ministry of climate change missions, in order to serve the country in their future priorities felids to contribute in the enhancement and development future path," Nazzal said.

Alyaa Al Remethi, a Senior student at the CNHS, said that they have retrofitted and operated three different drones during the testing phase of the experiment. The main scientific objectives of the project were to utilize the drone in finding and identifying the right palm tree (ready for pollination), mark it in the map (GPS for the farm) using the drone's camera. Then use the photo to make further research studies; the photos were taken by the drone save time for the labor in the farm regarding decision making while pollination in addition to location identification."

She further explained that increasing the overall efficacy of the pollination process, the Drones technology is well established for agriculture and plays an increasing role for both collecting information of the field and carrying operation in the field. "In both cases, the accuracy is at the scale of few centimeters and smart precision agriculture is then possible.

For this specific project, the experimental palm trees plantation at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) in Dubai, was utilized as an experimental site study. This palm plantation is comprising 229 grown-up palm tree representing the most common 18 variety in the UAE and GCC region. Also, the 18 years plantation can compare in the same time various species of date palm while subject to salinity stress. Covering an area of almost three hectares, this plantation is the ideal experimental study area to apply the unmanned aerial vehicle methodology of this study and to test it in practice.

Al Remethi said that they used three drones, under the supervision of Falcon Eye Drone Solutions, to carry out the test process. "One drone was utilized for taking pictures, detection and marking, the others were used to pollinate the trees and record the entire process for documentation purposes and further research," she said.

Concluding her statement, she said, "We can estimate the huge need for our drone design, as the UAE is considered one of the highest Date production countries. It is a market need that can accelerate the wheel of combining technological innovation and agricultural sciences.  We recommend future studies to focuses more on comparing the pollen type and its effect to the date's production and the success of the pollination process."