CSIRO start-up takes RapidAIM at fruit fly menace

The fruit fly costs the Australian economy over AUD $300m per year but that could change with the deployment of insect monitoring technology that has successfully undergone trials.

fruit fly
Fruit fly

New insect-monitoring technology start-up RapidAIM provides real-time fruit fly detection and monitoring. Founded by CSIRO researchers Dr Nancy Schellhorn, Darren Moore, and Laura Jones, RapidAIM has now received AUD $1.25m in funding from Main Sequence Ventures following successful trials with fruit producers in Victoria.

“Growers rely on weather radar and take action accordingly, but until now they haven’t had any pest ‘radar’ to support them against pests like fruit fly,” said Dr Nancy Schellhorn, RapidAIM co-founder and chief executive. “Existing fruit fly monitoring relies solely on manual trap checking, which limits the scale and depth of available information and costs valuable resources.”

Fruit flies lay eggs in fruits and vegetables as they ripen. The hatched maggots ruin the produce from the inside, which creates losses for producers and incurs additional clean-up costs. CSIRO, Australia’s national science agency, said that current fruit fly monitoring involves manually checking traps containing pheromones or food to attract pests.

The RapidAIM system is said to use low-powered smart sensors to detect insects like fruit fly from their characteristic movements. The sensors send data to the cloud using a radio modulated technique, giving producers real-time data flow of the pest on their farms and regions through a linked mobile app.

Dr Schellhorn said the new technology can reduce crop loss and provide early warnings of future pest hotspots.

“Our new technology can reduce the time spent checking traps by more than 35 per cent, and provides an immediate picture of fruit fly presence in specific locations to enable a rapid response for control,” she said.

The technology could be used to manage food and fibre pests around the world. According to RapidAIM, US$30bn of fruit and vegetable production is lost globally, and about US$18bn in global trade is threatened, due to fruit fly.

“Around the world, more than 900 million tonnes of insecticide is used to control insect pests every year, but 98 per cent reaches a target other than the intended destination,” Dr Schellhorn said. “With RapidAIM technology, crop-protection products can be used in a more targeted way.”