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A plan for modern-day bug catching

Joint Media Release (NICTA): 2 June 2006

A new $1 million project to develop new computing technologies that will scan and detect crops for infestations of insects and diseases was announced today by NICTA in partnership with the Cooperative Research Centre for National Plant Biosecurity.

The project will develop computer-based technologies that use automated and hyperspectral surveillance imaging to detect insect and disease outbreaks, for use in Australia's national early-warning quarantine surveillance system.

In Sydney as part of Techfest 2006, project leader Dr Antonio Robles-Kelly spoke about the technology being developed: "There are really two technologies being developed in this project, both of which will bring together two very diverse fields of Information and Communications Technology Researchers with Plant Biosecurity Scientists."

"In simple terms, the first technology being developed is a roving plant-scan and that is basically a little camera that a farmer or quarantine officer can attach to the top of his or her car and which is able to scan crops, trees - any kind of plant - as the farmer drives past and detect whether there are any nasty diseases causing any trouble," Dr Robles-Kelly explained.

"The second technology that we are working on is what we are calling ‘Smart Traps', and that is just your traditional bug catching device that has been brought into the modern age by being able to detect when it has caught a bug (which saves the farmer from having to check traps manually) and, even more importantly, that is then able to scan the bug and work out whether it's a good bug, or something to be worried about," he added.

Dr Darryl Hardie, Program Leader for Surveillance Research at the CRC for National Plant Biosecurity, said that these technologies could potentially save farmers and quarantine officers many hundreds of hours in laborious and time-consuming pest inspections, while also increasing the accuracy and effectiveness of surveillance regimes.

"When it comes to the quarantine inspection process, if you can get past having to inspect every leaf on a plant for a disease, or look at every single insect to see if it's a problem bug, then you are already most of the way towards finding the solution when you do have an outbreak," he continued.

"If you can automate the detection process, then you are really able to focus people's energy on the importance of the biosecurity issue, and it will not be seen as an exercise that is 99 percent a waste of time, but one that is 99 percent critically important," he added.

"Another long-term benefit of this kind of technology is that, over time, you will be collecting masses of information on the movement and spread of insects and diseases, information that will then be able to be used to prevent future outbreaks."

Techfest 2006 is being held at Luna Park in Sydney and will feature the work of more than 200 NICTA researchers and students from across Australia.