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Japanese firm abuzz after successfully testing drones to eliminate wasps

YABU, Hyogo -- A Japanese company has successfully tested drones to exterminate wasps, which previously was considered dangerous work where people can die.

    About 10 to 20 people a year in Japan are killed during extermination work against wasps, which have powerful poisonous stings. Until now, manual labor was considered essential to remove nests, but the use of drones is said to dramatically increase safety.

    In early November, a wasp nest about 35 centimeters in diameter was hanging from the eaves of a two-story warehouse in the deep mountainous city of Yabu in the northern part of Hyogo Prefecture. An about 80-centimeter-wide drone, controlled remotely from a few meters away on the ground, carefully approached the wasp nest.

    A drone approaches a nest and sucks in wasps in Yabu, Hyogo Prefecture, on Nov. 8, 2021. (Mainichi/Shohei Miyamoto)

    The drone has a vacuum function and sucked up the flying insects and the nest using a tube with a widened tip like a trumpet. In about two hours, with manual finishing procedures, the workers removed the nest and eliminated over 100 wasps including one believed to be the queen.

    Duskin Co., headquartered in Suita, Osaka Prefecture, a company engaged in the rental and sale of cleaning products and the operation of Mister Donut, utilizes drones for wasp extermination. The company is conducting demonstration tests while using a support system provided by the Hyogo Prefectural Government and The New Industry Research Organization based in Kobe.

    Duskin has been providing pest control services for a long time. Wasp extermination involves the risk of stings and the danger of working at heights as nests are sometimes built in high places. In fact, there have been accidents where workers were stung, and Duskin has had to turn down jobs when nests were located in high places.

    For this reason, Duskin began considering the use of drones from around the fall of 2020. Together with sales company Ishikawa Energy Research Co., based in Gunma Prefecture, they worked on the development of a special drone for wasp extermination.

    During manual extermination, chemicals are sprayed, but considering the impact on the environment, they adopted the method of sucking up the insects with a vacuum, which is used for cockroach and similar extermination work.

    A drone takes off toward a wasp's nest in Yabu, Hyogo Prefecture.

    Yusuke Saito, who is in charge of drone development at Duskin, explained, "When wasps recognize an enemy, they secrete an alarm pheromone and attack in groups. By attaching pheromones to the drone, they will gather at the machine and can be exterminated efficiently."

    Kazuki Hayashi, sales manager of Ishikawa Energy Research, said, "Unlike drones for spraying pesticides, ones (for extermination) are used for precision work, so we achieved stable flight with our unique programming." Currently, they are working on a second model to adjust the tube that sucks in wasps.

    The demonstration tests were conducted in Hyogo in September and November. Saito said, "In addition to the support system, there were many locations in Hyogo Prefecture that needed wasp extermination."

    According to the Japan Pest Control Association in Tokyo, Hyogo Prefecture had the highest number of consultations for wasp extermination in the nation between 2016 and 2020, with 4,245 consultations out of a total of 21,827 in 2020.

    Duskin is aiming to expand the use of drones to exterminate wasps nationwide. Saito commented, "The number of foreign species of wasps, which nest in higher places, is spreading in Japan. The use of drones will become more important in the future."

    (Japanese original by Shohei Miyamoto, Kobe Bureau)

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