How New Technology Shields Apple Blossoms from Frost

Spring frosts can ruin apple crops. Apple trees bloom earlier due to climate change, making them more susceptible to intense cold.

Traditional orchard canopy heating methods to avoid bloom freezing are inefficient, causing producers problems.

Penn State researchers created a revolutionary frost protection system that uses real-time temperature and wind data to judge heating.

This cyber-physical system includes a temperature-sensing device, a propane-fueled heater that adjusts its direction and angle dependent on wind, and an unmanned ground vehicle that transports the heating system across the apple orchard.

Tests showed that the technique dramatically reduced apple tree bud damage in low temperatures. The test-area canopy was protected from frost longer with this technique than in other parts of the orchard, proving its usefulness.

Heating helps protect apple bloom buds. Growers have struggled to find the best heat application timing and position, wasting energy and reducing crop yields.

The researchers use shape memory to transmit heat with nitinol-based artificial muscles. Wires made of this alloy may remember their original shape after being stretched or deformed.

Wind complicates heating efforts and reduces efficiency. The device controls energy use and crop damage by monitoring environmental variables and makes heating decisions.

This breakthrough was led by smart agricultural researchers. The study examined apple orchard heat-transfer patterns and used drone-based thermal imaging to guide the autonomous ground vehicle's heating operations.

The system's innovative component automatically rotates and adjusts the heater for maximum heat distribution and energy efficiency. This method warms apple blooms, preventing frost damage even in strong winds.

To make this technology available to apple growers, more study is needed. The study shows that drone-guided multiple heating units in big orchards can efficiently handle chilly regions. This strategy should boost orchard heating efficiency and reduce energy use.