New insect-monitoring technology startup RapidAIM is receiving a $1.25M boost to protect Australia from the world’s biggest biosecurity barrier to trade: the fruit fly, which costs Australia more than $300 million every year.

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Founded by researchers from Australia’s national science agency CSIRO Dr Nancy Schellhorn, Darren Moore, and Laura Jones, RapidAIM provides real-time fruit fly detection and monitoring to help Australian producers battle against the devastating pest – and it could revolutionise pest monitoring around the globe.

Main Sequence Ventures, who manage the CSIRO Innovation Fund, is making the $1.25M investment in the startup, which successfully trialled the technology with fruit producers in Victoria last year.

“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,” RapidAIM co-founder and Chief Executive Dr Nancy Schellhorn said.

“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, creating huge losses for producers and costing millions in clean-up efforts. Current fruit fly monitoring involves manually checking traps containing pheromones or food to lure the pests in.

The RapidAIM system uses low-powered smart sensors to detect insects like fruit fly from their characteristic movements. The sensors, which can be placed by the thousands, 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.

CSIRO’s Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said RapidAIM was set to make a huge difference to growers around the world.

“As Australia’s national science agency, we’re committed to solving Australia’s greatest challenges – in this case a more than $300 million cost to Australian fruit and vegetable industry,” Dr Marshall said.

“Taking technology developed inside of CSIRO, turned into a new Aussie startup through our innovation program and the CSIRO Innovation Fund, is a great example of accelerating science solutions to deliver real-world solutions.

“As an accomplished scientist, entrepreneur, and now CEO, Nancy Schellhorn is an inspiration to our next generation of women STEM leaders.”

Dr Schellhorn said the technology had huge potential for managing food and fibre pests around the world.

“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.”

The RapidAIM team was supported by CSIRO’s innovation program ON. Both Main Sequence Ventures and ON were created through the National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA).

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