The fight against moths is a high priority among greenhouse growers, because of the damage that the caterpillars bring to cultivation. This is possible with pesticides, but that is not preferable for a variety of reasons. The Dutch company PATS is developing a unique solution in the form of a moth killing drone. The system is already being tested in a number of greenhouses.

high-tech insect control

Normally, up to ten percent of cultivation can be disposed of in a greenhouse as a result of a moth infestation. This is because moths lay their eggs between the flowers or plants. The caterpillars that come out of it eat the cultivation, making them unsellable. This problem does not only affect flower growers: the same is true for growers of vegetable crops.

That must be possible differently, thought the founders of PATS, a startup with its roots in TU Delft. The company’s mission is to use drones for insect control. This is achieved by sending a ‘mechanical bat’ in the form of a small drone on an insect or moth and grinding it to pieces. As a result: moth confetti.

By the way, the name PATS is not short for ‘precise aerial targeting system’ or anything like that. “Initially, our idea was to kill mosquitoes with the help of drones. When coming up with a company name, we had to think of the sound that a fly swatter makes when you beat a mosquito to death: pats! Hence this name,” explains co-founder and CEO Bram Tijmons.

Indoor navigation

To get a small drone to a moth quickly and precisely the team has developed a special camera system. The camera ensures a precise location of the moth, and the three-dimensional coordinates of the drone during the flight are also determined by the camera.

CTO Kevin van Hecke explains how it works: “To keep drone weight and costs down, we use a separate camera and computer system, which controls the drone. With this, we bypass the indoor navigation problem, but more importantly, this camera system earns itself because we offer it as a monitoring platform: PATS-C, which allows the grower to see, among other things, that there is a pest, sometimes weeks before he sees it with manual “scouting”. As a final piece, we supply the ‘mechanical bat’ that prevents this problem without being taken back to additional pesticides.”

Minimal impact

The advantage of the ‘mechanical bat’ is the minimal impact on the processes in the greenhouse. The system is also safe for people. This is because the drone is kept as small and light as possible.

Van Hecke: “To get rid of a moth too quickly, agility is the key word. The smaller the drone, the more agile. As a result, the impact of our drone in the greenhouse is negligible. Not only does the cultivation, for example, suffer from drone downwash, also our drones are safe for people just like TinyWhoops, and the grower has no need to worry about it because they are autonomous. As a company, we now operate hundreds of fully autonomous flights every day.”


test setup

has now built a successful test setup in a greenhouse in the Westland. The system basically works at night, because the moths will then be active. As soon as a moth is detected by a camera, the system sends a drone to the insect. Once the moth has been ground to barley, the drone returns automatically. Every flight only takes a few seconds: it’s that fast.

Once the test phase has been completed, PATS wants to market the system commercially. Tijmons: “This is in the planning for the first half of 2021, and our solution is already in great demand from the cultivation sector. A world is really opening up for us.”