BBSRC is investing in unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) technology for Rothamsted to monitor crops and crop experiments as part of several genetic improvement projects
The custom built radio remote-controlled octocopter is equipped with four cameras. It will allow for data collection on the experimental crop plots.
Professor Maurice Moloney, Director and Chief Executive of Rothamsted Research said: “This is the first time that an agricultural research organisation in the UK has obtained an UAV equipped to this standard. The technology will substantially increase throughput and precision of analysis, and make a substantial contribution to current programmes of crop improvement.
“The technology will compliment ground-based measurements initially but eventually aerial-based observation will replace the need for low throughput non-automated manual measurement.”
The UAV will give unique perspectives on crop growth and plant functioning. It will also vastly extend capabilities for screening crops of different genetic background for performance, nutrition, stress, pathogen and disease responses.
The octocopter is a standard eight rotor battery powered unmanned aerial vehicle, they are typically used in the film industry. Four cameras have been added, two of which at any time can give a live feed of their picture to a monitor on the ground. One camera takes videos and stills and is on a fixed mounting, pointing forwards. It is used to identify where the camera is flying, via goggles. The other three cameras are all mounted on a stabilized platform which can be tilted remotely from the transmitter, and comprise a high definition RGB camera, a thermal infra-red camera and a hyperspectral camera.
Dr Malcolm Hawkesford, lead scientist of the 20:20® Wheat Programme at Rothamsted Research said: “We are very excited to have been able with the support of the BBSRC to obtain this unique equipment.
“The UAV will be deployed over the full range of crops studied at the institute and will enable detailed evaluations of growth and functioning of the plants. It will enable multiple measurements to be made within a short space of time with pre-programmed low level flight paths. It is anticipated that many thousands of plots will be monitored sequentially or in parallel in blocks in projects currently screening germplasm variation amongst thousands of lines combined with multiple treatments and replications.”
Rothamsted Research receives strategic funding from the BBSRC.