Background: Beyond insecticides, alternative methods to control insect pests for agriculture and vectors of diseases are needed. Management strategies involving the mass-release of living control agents have been developed, including genetic control with sterile insects and biological control with parasitoids, for which aerial release of insects is often required. Aerial release in genetic control programmes often involves the use of chilled sterile insects, which can improve dispersal, survival and competitiveness of sterile males. Currently available means of aerially releasing chilled fruit flies are however insufficiently precise to ensure homogeneous distribution at low release rates and no device is available for tsetse.
Methodology/principal findings: Here we present the smart aerial release machine, a new design by the Mubarqui Company, based on the use of vibrating conveyors. The machine is controlled through Bluetooth by a tablet with Android Operating System including a completely automatic guidance and navigation system (MaxNav software). The tablet is also connected to an online relational database facilitating the preparation of flight schedules and automatic storage of flight reports. The new machine was compared with a conveyor release machine in Mexico using two fruit flies species (Anastrepha ludens and Ceratitis capitata) and we obtained better dispersal homogeneity (% of positive traps, p<0.001) for both species and better recapture rates for Anastrepha ludens (p<0.001), especially at low release densities (<1500 per ha). We also demonstrated that the machine can replace paper boxes for aerial release of tsetse in Senegal.
Conclusions/significance: This technology limits damages to insects and allows a large range of release rates from 10 flies/km2 for tsetse flies up to 600,000 flies/km2 for fruit flies. The potential of this machine to release other species like mosquitoes is discussed. Plans and operating of the machine are provided to allow its use worldwide.