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Locust-catching UAVs

Military surplus with a use other than decorating your wall.
  [vote for,

Locust plagues kinda suck, unless you happen to be a locust yourself. Farmers lose their crops, herders lose their grasslands, and their little corpses make the roads squishy and tough to ride a bicycle on.

The locust itself has no natural predators that can significantly reduce a swarm's size.

But we have the technology to make the locust plague a thing of the past, or at least to control it so that it doesn't starve out folks in Nigeria or eastern France.

Pesticides are an option, but they wipe out good critters too. And ducks are the Chinese tool of choice, but in an age of paranoia over bird flu, do YOU want to try to convince politicians to introduce any non-native bird to a western nation? Didn't think so.

Basically, this is a system of large to mid-sized radio-controlled airplanes / gliders with nets. The Predator is a good model, and may actually be adaptable for this purpose. The LOCAAS system currently in development may be even more useful.

The aircraft will fly over a swarm, travelling slowly. At a certain point, it will shut off its engines and deploy a cover over the intakes to prevent against bug damage, and dive downwards and through or just above the swarm. A mortar will fire a weighted net along the body of the swarm, capturing (hopefully) large numbers of the bugs.

Two nets would be loaded onto the thing for potentially doubled effectiveness.

With the engine still off, the aircraft would then glide a safe distance away (and hopefully regain some altitude), uncover the intakes, fire the engines again, and return to its deployment field for a reload.

Nets would have a radio transmitter tag for easy location, and locusts contained therein could be utilized as animal feed, dipped in chocolate and sold to tourists, or otherwise used.

Small fleets or flight groups would be stored in central locations in regions where locusts frequently swarm. UAVs are relatively easy to ship, so they could be transferred to areas in need quickly and easily.

shapu, Jul 18 2005

Info on LOCAAS http://www.fas.org/...ys/smart/locaas.htm
From FAS. [shapu, Jul 18 2005]

Predator Drones http://en.wikipedia.../wiki/RQ-1_Predator
With their 50-foot wingspan... [shapu, Jul 18 2005]

"The Amazing Desert Locust" http://www.bbsrc.ac...fe/crowd/intro.html
[shapu, Jul 18 2005]

Density in a swarm (last paragraph) http://scienceblog....ty/article3410.html
[shapu, Jul 18 2005]

Density break point for gregarious behavior http://locust.cirad...especes/lmi_en.html
[shapu, Jul 20 2005]

A study on migratory locusts http://www.univ-pau...nglais/integral.htm
Mention of phase switch in section 2A [shapu, Jul 20 2005]

Locust eyes detect water http://news.bbc.co....ci/tech/4686527.stm
[AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jul 20 2005]


       Not sure where you get your information from, but plenty of things eat locusts, including people.
DrCurry, Jul 18 2005

       It was based on a article on a french news site. That portion has been edited and, I should note, corrected.
shapu, Jul 18 2005

       imagine the sound the locusts would make when getting sucked into the engine turbines and air intakes.
DesertFox, Jul 18 2005

       Hence the intake covers.   

       EDIT: Although actually imagining the sound is somewhat entertaining.
shapu, Jul 18 2005

       'Ang on a second. Are we talking about the locust plagues that cover thousands of square miles, with billions of individual locusts? Or is there a meaning of "plague" which is actually a collective noun for "a few hundred locusts in close formation"?

And, you imply that these several locusts are being caught 'on the wing'. Personally, if I'm a farmer, my thinking is that a flying locust is a locust that is on its way to becoming some other farmer's problem.
Basepair, Jul 18 2005

       No, I'm thinking the bigger ones. I'm suggesting the formation of small fleets of these vehicles, perhaps a dozen in central locations.   

       I think in the long run the initial expense will be far outweighed by the comparative cost of issuing food drops to areas hit by locusts, or in terms of human life lost to starvation due to crop loss.
shapu, Jul 18 2005

       // perhaps a dozen in central locations.// Well, I'm not a locust expert. But the 1989 plague apparently "impacted one fifth of the land mass of the earth". Exactly how big are these nets? I appreciate that the swarms must start small, but aren't we a few orders of magnitude out somewhere?
Basepair, Jul 18 2005

       UAVs are reusable. I'm supposing that this system wouldn't be any different.   

       EDIT: I see where my previous anno was poorly-worded. I ought to have said, "A dozen vehicles each in several central locations."
shapu, Jul 18 2005

       Well, yes. I'm not trying to be awkward here, but seriously, what is the area of a typical locust plague, and what is the area of an air-launchable net?

I just doubt that the plagues are small enough to be nettable (even with many nets). And if they were, why not use mortar-launched nets from the ground? A dozen mortar launchers must cost less than a dozen UAVs.
Basepair, Jul 18 2005

       That's true, but UAVs can go where people can't. That, and they can get there faster, and can follow the swarm, as well as get out of the way of the swarm, whereas mortar launchers and the people to reload them would be covered by locusts in the process of launching. That's the purpose of my idea, rather than a downside.
shapu, Jul 18 2005

       Well, point taken regarding accessibility. But I am still not sure about the feasibility. I'm not saying it can't work - perhaps I am wrong in my assumptions. BUT - there are some simple numbers which will answer the question: (1) What is the average area covered by a swarm and (2) what is the largest net that can realistically be deployed?

If a swarm covers an area 10km x 10km, and a net can be deployed 100m on a side, you'll need 10,000 perfectly-deployed nets to eliminate the swarm. So, tell us the real numbers to prove the feasibility.
Basepair, Jul 19 2005

       Take the UAV's and have them empty some fuel a couple thousand feet above the swarm. Wait a few minutes then ignite.
Antegrity, Jul 20 2005

       The problem I've got with this is that killing some of the locusts, even 50%, will just give the others more room to breed. Is the lifecycle of a locust long enough that we can worry about the flying ones now and deal with the juveniles later?
david_scothern, Jul 20 2005

       [Basepair], you're assuming that the net would be dropped flat on top of the swarm, as opposed to through it. By moving the net through the swarm, from front to back, then you can capture more locusts with one net.   

       This won't eliminate a swarm. I'm hoping that it would alleviate it.   

       The average locust is between 5 and 7 cm in length. If a net is deployed that is 4m on a side, or 16m^2, and moved through the swarm, we can assume that individuals pressed against that net would be rather tightly packed. According to my calculations, a perfect stacking on that 16m^2 net would contain about 2.29 million locusts, though I doubt that would actually happen.   

       If the net is deployed moving through the swarm, and can move a distance relative to the swarm of 1/2 km, then it would cover a volume of 16m^2 x 500m, or 8000m^3. If population density in a swarm is 50 individuals per m^2, then this net would capture 16*50*500 individuals, or 400,000, which is well within the theoretical maximum (if my math is right, which is always up for debate). So a fleet of 10 of these UAVs, each with 2 nets, could capture 8 million individual locusts per sortie.   

       The breakpoint for locusts to switch from solitary to gregarious behavior is apparently about 2,000 individuals per km^2, and locusts can switch back (two more links).   

       [david_scothern] Since swarms can spread out, there is no "room to breed." Also, it takes 9-12 weeks for a locust to grow from egg hatchling to adult, and another week to become sexually mature, so by that point the swarm will undoubtedly have moved on.
shapu, Jul 20 2005

       There was a story on the BBC website recently [linky] about locusts being able to detect the difference in polarisation of light, and so avoid flying over water. Maybe if your UAVs simply projected polarised mirages, you could steer the swarm wherever you wanted. Or give a few Judas locusts Polaroid sunglasses.
AbsintheWithoutLeave, Jul 20 2005

       A few back-of-envelope calcs show that the inter-locust distance is about a metre. So the net would have to be mighty large to catch appreciable numbers.   

       But since you're using UAVs anyway, why not go for some big ones, e.g. Predators (good name for the job, anyway) and fly them in pairs with a large electrified net slung between them. The net is weighted at the lower end, and is powered by onboard high-voltage generators.   

       You can fly your mega-zapper all day through the swarm, reducing it to a steady rain of lightly grilled locusts drifting to earth to feed the starving millions.   

       Yum. Manna from heaven.
phlogiston, Jul 20 2005

       [shapu] - The plan is most definitely halfbaked (I believe chemicals would be more effective, harmful and boring). You seem to be basing the plan on getting to and decimating the little swarm before it turns into a big one, which we can obviously do nothing about. But how do you find the little swarms?
wagster, Jul 20 2005

       [phlogiston]: It would probably be easier to control if one simply created one larger vehicle, sort of a black-widow style with two fuselages, if one is going to use a large zapper net.   

       In hindsight, your modification is much wiser and, I believe, simpler, than mine, although it does lose the keep-the-corpses-together flavor that I was shooting for with the radio-tagged nets.
shapu, Jul 20 2005

       Sharks, with lasers on their heads.   

       [Antegrity], you've got it. Fuel / Air explosions. Just use a fuel with a hickory additive for that barbeque flavor. Now I think I'm going to lunch.
normzone, Jul 20 2005


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