Early detection of 'olive tree leprosy' with drones

This file photo taken on February 11, 2016 shows olive trees infected by the bacteria "Xylella fastidiosa" in Gallipoli near Lecce, in the Puglia region. (AFP)
Updated 26 June 2018
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Early detection of 'olive tree leprosy' with drones

  • The bug has also attacked orchards in Spain and France, and both Greece and Portugal are bracing for its likely arrival
  • The only way to fight the spread of what is known as "olive tree leprosy" is to destroy diseased trees

PARIS: A bacterial infection ravaging olive orchards in southern Europe can be detected from small planes or drones well before symptoms appear, offering panicky growers the prospect of an early warning system, scientists said Monday.
Using high-tech cameras that detect heat and the electromagnetic spectrum from X-ray to radio waves, researchers were able to spot diseased trees that, on the ground, still seemed healthy, they reported in the journal Nature Plants.
"After infection, it takes four to 14 months before visual symptoms are observable by plant pathologists in the field," lead author Pablo Zarco-Tejada, an agricultural engineer at the European Commission's Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, told AFP.
"The problem is that during this entire time the tree remains a potential source of infection."
Once Xylella fastidiosa bacteria -- carried by tiny sap-sucking insects known as leafhoppers -- take hold, there is no cure and the plant is doomed.
The only way to fight the spread of what is known as "olive tree leprosy" is to destroy diseased trees.
"Early detection is critical for the eradication of the bacteria," Zarco-Tejada said.
Since it hit the Apulia region in 2013, the microscopic pathogen has killed more than a million olive trees in Italy, and 10 million more are currently affected.
The bug has also attacked orchards in Spain and France, and both Greece and Portugal are bracing for its likely arrival.
Some 350 plants are vulnerable, including grape vines, citrus and almond trees.
Known in the United States as Pierce's disease, it devastated California vineyards in the late 19th century.
To test their approach, Zarco-Tejada and international team of researchers fitted thermal and hyperspectral cameras on a small plane, and then analysed images of orchards.
At the same time, they tested olive trees on the ground for infection.
They found that the bacterial infection can be remotely detected three to six months before visible symptoms appear.
"We extracted the spectral signature and the temperature from each single tree crown," Zarco-Tejada said.
The data were then fed into a model built with machine-learning methods.
The cameras can be easily installed on planes or drones, similar to ones used for aerial photography and surveillance. The cost would depend in part on the size of the area covered.
The insect-borne pathogen has likely spread more quickly as global warming takes hold, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal Biorxiv.
But a more immediate factor in its expansion is probably global trade, the study said.
The authors are currently measuring for Xylella fastidiosa in almond orchards in central Spain.
Italy and Spain together account for nearly 70 percent of global olive oil output, according to the International Olive Council (IOC).


Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

Updated 20 March 2019
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Saudi ICT sector holds key to growth, forum told

  • 5G will be used in 30% of big cities in Saudi Arabia by 2020
  • 90% of KSA has 4G technology coverage, including remote centers and villages

RIYADH: Information and communications technology (ICT) is one of the main drivers of development in today’s world, a Riyadh forum on “Digital Transformation for an Ambitious Country” has been told.

In his opening speech to the annual Communications and Information Technology Indicators Forum, Abdul Aziz Al-Ruwais, governor of the Communications and Information Technology Commission, said the ICT sector stimulated productivity, enhanced competitiveness and encouraged innovation.

On Wednesday, the Saudi minister of communications and information technology, Abdullah bin Amer Al-Sawaha, joined regional and global leaders in the ICT sector, telecom executives and government officials at the forum.

Al-Ruwais said that ICT has been used to “develop strategies and regulatory policies that can guarantee the availability of infrastructure, basic apparatus and services in all regions of the Kingdom.”

“In order to facilitate the mission of researchers, experts and those interested in telecommunication services indicators, the Communications and Information Technology Commission established an electronic platform that allows the user to have access to indicators and statistics related to the sector. This platform enables the user to view the indicators in the form of tables and detailed graphs,” he said.

Al-Ruwais said the commission has achieved 90 percent coverage of 4G technologies in the Kingdom, including remote centers and villages.

He said the authority has issued temporary licenses for fifth-generation networks, equipping 153 sites with 5G in nine cities. So far, 680 trials were conducted for 5G.

He said that ICT services achieved high indicators during the 2017 Hajj season, with local and international calls totaling 439 million through 16,000 base stations.

Mufarreh Nahari, director of Market Studies at CITC, said: “It is expected that by 2020 the experimental uses of 5G will be fully completed and they will be ready to launch the official 5G sim by then. By the end of 2020 we expect that 5G will be used in 30 percent of the big cities in Saudi Arabia.”

The past three years have seen an increase in internet usage. In 2018, two-thirds of Internet users in the Kingdom used the internet for more than four hours a day, said Nahari.

Ammar Al-Ansari, department head of Country Digital Acceleration at Cisco, said: “The agreements signed by the crown prince during his overseas visits led to the introduction of a number of artificial intelligence (AI) techniques, including virtual schools and smart classrooms.” 

Seven schools in Saudi have a live stream for teachers to connect with their students. They may be 250 km to 300 km apart, but an active learning session takes place between students and educators.

Al-Ansari displayed a video from a teacher in Jeddah giving lessons to students in the northern region via a smart board. AI was used to monitor and analyze students’ attention spans. 

The analysis will help educators update traditional teaching methods.