DRONE pilots have beaten dogs for the second year in a row at Muresk Institute’s novel Drone versus Dog competition that highlights technology career opportunities available in agriculture.
But it was a close finish on the Muresk oval last Wednesday.
Jay, the energetic eight-year-old border collie/kelpie cross, scorched around the obstacle course laid out on the oval in a blistering 16.29 seconds – 1.13 seconds quicker than the best time achieved by a drone controlled by a student pilot.
But in his enthusiasm to set quickest time Jay misinterpreted hand signals and vocal instructions from owner and Mandurah dog trainer Sylvia Hamilton.
He raced around the last hay bale obstacle instead of between them.
The dog’s disqualification left year 11 John Curtin College of the Arts student Archie Le Grice, 16, the winning pilot with a time of 17.42 seconds for manoeuvring a drone over the same course.
He won a Phantom 3 drone fitted with a camera for the college.
With a time of 19.12 seconds, Mark Ward of Western Australia College of Agriculture, Harvey, was second.
Although she crashed out of the competition, Kelmscott Senior High School student Taila Gilbertson was judged by drone instructor and chief controller Sam Watson of UAV Resources, which supplied the drones, to be the smoothest operator.
Participants were years 10-12 students from the three Western Australian College of Agriculture campuses – Harvey, Denmark and Cunderdin, Applecross and Kelmscott senior high schools, Quairading District High School, Kiara College, Edmund Rice College, Bindoon, and John Curtin College of the Arts, with 190 students visiting Muresk for the day.
A roadshow crew and trailer display promoting drone and other new technology in agriculture, had visited each college and school earlier in the year and each had chosen from student nominations a drone pilot to represent them in the Drone versus Dog competition.
The eventual winner was the only drone pilot in the competition with any previous experience.
Archie said he had been flying his own drone for about nine months, but admitted to crashing it.
He had three clear competition rounds without crashes or straying off the course.
It was his second win in a week.
Archie also won the Under 18 Junior Boys division at the HIF WA Longboard Titles and will represent WA at the Australian Surf Festival on the Tweed Coast, New South Wales, in August.
On the day drone pilots were given instruction by UAV Resources before the competition while cheer squads of non-competing students attended careers in agriculture course information sessions.
Muresk general manager Prue Jenkins said the aim of the competition, initiated last year, was to alert senior secondary students to the “diverse range of career opportunities” available that were associated with agriculture in some way.
She said it was also a way of encouraging them to consider further study options that could enhance their ability to find a career in or associated with agriculture.
“Currently there are 1.6 million people employed across the agriculture supply chain in Australia – there are so many career opportunities in this sector and, with new technologies, many of those challenge the traditional perceptions of farming and food production,” Ms Jenkins said.
Later, Education Minister Sue Ellery said the State government understood “the importance of growing agricultural skills ... as the industry offers an opportunity to diversify and strengthen the Western Australian economy”.
“The Drone versus Dog trial is a unique way to show school students the role technology plays in a modern farm,” Ms Ellery said.
“It’s been a big hit with students and highly effective in changing their perceptions about jobs in agriculture.”
p Curtin University is seeking expressions of interest for its new Associate Degree in Agribusiness course which is expected to start at Muresk within months.
The two-year associate degree will provide people undertaking the course with “an understanding of agriculture production systems combined with the business skills associated with the production, processing, marketing and distribution of food”, Curtin said.
Lower admission criteria will apply to the associate degree course than to the Bachelor of Agribusiness offered at Curtin’s Bentley campus, but the associate degree will be a pathway into the full bachelor degree, providing up to 18 months credit.
Anyone interested in the new course at Muresk should lodge an expression of interest at curtin.edu/assoc-degree-ag.