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Luke Chaplain

2022 Nuffield Scholar

The sky’s the limit for drone mustering

On Malakoff Station in northwest Queensland, Luke Chaplain smoothly pilots his DJI Mavic 2 drone in behind a small mob of beef cattle, setting them running across the paddock. Swiftly he brings the drone around to the front of the mob to bring them back to walking pace.

He’s testing the drone or UAV – unmanned aerial vehicle – on his family’s 30,000 hectares of grazing land near Cloncurry.

With his 2022 Nuffield Scholarship, supported by PSP Investments, Luke plans to explore commercial models for UAVs to emulate traditional helicopter mustering in a more cost-effective and efficient process.

“The cost of hiring or owning a helicopter is increasing and a number of tech savvy producers in the industry are already using drones to muster livestock. The technology is available, it’s a case of combining it for a specific purpose,” says Luke.

“I’d also like to explore more ag tech opportunities including Internet of things (IOT), spatial, hardware and software applications for Australian livestock production.”

Luke says UAVs can also play a role in services other than mustering, such as biomass monitoring, weed detection and animal welfare. In ten years, he predicts that UAVs will replace 70-80% of helicopter and 100% of gyrocopter mustering in Australia, delivering cost savings, higher productivity and increased safety for livestock producers.

“The consumer drones I've been using are a solid and successful minimal viable product (MVP). It's time to upscale the technology to make a commercial product specifically for finding and moving livestock,” he says.

“My sister Sarah was a 2016 Nuffield Scholar so I'm looking forward to joining her and the rest of the alumni on this awesome adventure.”

As a Nuffield Scholar supported by PSP Investments, Luke plans to travel or talk to experts in the UAV and ag tech space in the United States, Israel, Germany and the UK, and has already had discussions locally with the Federal Minister for Aviation and the Civil Aviation Safety Authority to discuss future regulation changes for UAVs.

Ph: 0422 866 214

E: lukepchaplain@gmail.com