UAV, biotechnology and agriculture
In a time when world trade is globalized and increasingly interdependent, in a world in which economic tissues interact and correlate, activities such as the agriculture have more and more challenges to face.
The need of combining biological expertise with multiple techniques is joined to the cultural and socio-economic knowledge already required in this area.
The external factors that positively or negatively affect the agriculture, are numerous and often difficult to predict or to control.
Different techniques have been developed in parallel with the expansion of the agricultural machinery in order to support and enhance this ancient activity.
Among these techniques we can find biotechnology, crop selection, products for plant protection, irrigation control, fertilization and others.
Leading technology on UAV combined with one of the oldest human activities
Spectroscopy, a technique that allows the study of the light radiation emitted by objects on the ground is one of the most interesting developments between those that are supporting the agriculture.
This technique allows to study the light radiation of the ground objects by capturing their emissions in wavelengths that are not perceivable by the human eye.
Thanks to the hyperspectral digital imaging, it becomes possible to acquire high resolution images containing the entire light spectrum, in order to study radiations located on wavelengths beyond those accessible by our human vision and that contain very rich and useful information.
It is now possible with this technology to evaluate the condition of the crops even in a very early stage of development, to diagnose miscellaneous diseases in order to treat them faster, to evaluate the growth of weeds and other pests or the growth of algae in water supplies or ponds.
In order to combine hyperspectral imaging techniques together with the comfort and the huge possibilities of a remote controlled aicraft, AltiGator worked together with the Department of Topographical Research for rural development at the Polytechnic University of Athens: www.survey.ntua.gr
Data containing rich information
With such a wealth of information (data at very high spatial and spectral resolution) multiple Earth observation applications have been able to be brought to life.
For precision agriculture applications, for example, we can evaluate and monitor the crop conditions (health, stress, performance, etc…).
In precision viticulture, based on the hyper-spectral information, it is possible for instance to highlight areas of crops that are associated with high or low grape quality clusters and then propose to operators a selective harvesting procedure.
A data processing UAV flying station
The challenges were many and unusual compared to traditional uses that we know to civil drones. These included the embedding of the hyperspectral camera, but also the need to carry a whole computer in order to preprocess the taken images, immediately after each shot during the flight.
The navigation accuracy, the power supply and the stability of the delicate instruments that are installed on board, the important payload, the flying time, the weather conditions together with the ease of deployment were among the most ambitious challenges that we faced, providing a realistic and viable solution at the field.
It is the OnyxStar BAT-F8 drone combined with MikroKopter electronics that brings this spectroscopic station in the air, placing it with extreme precision to the needed altitude and the predefined GPS coordinates. It quadrangles then the selected area by collecting high-resolution images that have the necessary data for scientists to perform the spectrometric analysis of the field.
The embedded application that manages the ground survey has been developed by the Polytechnic University of Athens. It demonstrates once again the vastness of the possibilities that civil drones may offer today.
Higher definition than the satellite images
It is obvious that the images from satellites located in a geostationary orbit thousands of kilometers away from the Earth, provide only poor definition for spectrometric applications compared to images obtained at low altitude by the hyper-spectral camera carried by our survey station.
The latest technological progresses in the hyper-spectral sensors area combined with the UAV platforms make the earth observation and the environmental monitoring more efficient.
For comparison, the information obtained through the current satellite multi-spectral data has a ground resolution of one meter and from 4 to 8 spectral bands, while the hyper-spectral camera of our drone offers 50 to 300 spectral bands. This way we obtain a detailed information with a resolution of 50 cm at the ground level.
Using a UAV as the most convenient tool to obtain these imagesfor agriculture
No other aircraft has the agility, the ease of deployment and the flexibility of a remotely controlled drone. A solution using a real airplane or helicopter, involves significant costs and a lack of flexibility & detail.
It is also subject to many other constraints that bring the complexity and the cost of such surveys to levels that are difficult, if not impossible, to realize.
Thanks to this flying hyper-spectral exploring station it is now possible to detect potential problems or threats for the culture when they are still in their beginnings, their earliest stage of development and still invisible by the human eye.
The speed of diagnosis is highly valuable. It gives indeed the time to the agricultural engineers to develop the most appropriate strategy to cure the concerned crops.
Subsequent surveys are then used to evaluate the results of the chosen treatment in order to continue or modify it if necessary.