Agriculture & Forestry

Industrial UAVs as part of precision agriculture

UAVs in precision agriculture

According to current estimates, in 2050 our planet will be populated with about 9.6 billion people. Given resources and land shortages, new ways and solutions must be found for food supply. News ways, which will rely partly on the use of UAVs. These are now used in almost all industrial sectors and are becoming more and more important to the agriculture industry as well. With precise sensors, automated processes and an unprecedented data provision, industrial UAVs ( Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) are revolutionising the agricultural economy.

Agriculture is changing

Today tractors bring out seeds automatically with high precision. In late summer and autumn, GPS controlled harvesters move smoothly and precisely through the fields. It seems like agriculture is losing its rustic, romantic charm. This is not a voluntary abandonment of old traditions, but rather an adaptation to the modern world. Increased international competition, price pressure and efficiency targets are creating a new way of working that puts new techniques into action to achieve more crops with less labor. Multicopters like the Aibot X6, with their ability of autonomous flights and the use of various sensors such as multi- and hyperspectral cameras, offer the opportunity to be a valuable part of the precision agriculture.

Advantages of professional UAVs in agriculture

UAVs are ideal for capturing high-resolution aerial photographs and have, compared to manned systems such as helicopters and airplanes, the advantage of being affordable and flexible. This is crucial, especially when repetitive aerial surveys for monitoring of agricultural equipment have to be made. But also in the qualitative analysis of crops and farmland, multicopters create with thermal, multi-spectral and hyperspectral imaging new opportunities. Based on preset waypoint flights, large areas can be checked repeatedly and autonomously to receive information on water content, pest and fungal infestation. Thanks to precise geo-referencing, individual and accurate countermeasures can be taken. For farmers, multicopters thus offer a valuable alternative to costly satellite images and time-consuming inspections by foot.

As part of the control procedures, inspections by farmers, biologists and often interns have always played a major role. In the precision agriculture of the future, the use of UAVs will not free you completely from this burdon. However, thanks to special sensors, an UAV can define precisely in which section of a field, a visual inspection is necessary. Furthermore, UAV sensors have the advantage of making the invisible to the human eye finally visible.

Thermal, multi-spectral & hyperspectral imaging

Multi-spectral imaging for UAVs in agriculture businesses
Aibot X6 capturing multi-spectral data, useful for the agriculture sector.

As a multi-sensor platform, the Aibot X6 can be equipped with a variety of sensitive cameras and sensors that collect necessary data for farmers. The acquisition and processing of information is partly still new territory, since developments in the technical areas are young and will be applied to the agricultural sector over the next years. Particularly promising innovations, which will play a big role in precision agriculture, are multi-spectral and hyperspectral sensors. These sensors can recognise and differentiate more color regions than the the human eye. In multi-spectral range, the near infrared (NIR), red, green, Red-Edge bands are mainly recorded, whereas a hyperspectral camera is even able to record significantly more bands. The individual bands provide information on which light waves are reflected or absorbed by the plants or the soil. Based on existing data and absorbed light wavelengths, plant properties can be defined (for example, to chalky water, poor irrigation or pest infestations).

Normalised Difference Vegetative Index (NDVI)

As one of the most frequently consulted vegetation indices in agriculture, NDVI provides information on which areas are particularly or poorly covered with vegetation. Therefore the reflection of near infrared is being measured, to determine which areas of arable land have high chlorophyll values - a property that goes along with increased plant vitality. If an evenly populated agricultural area is checked using NDVI, it can be determined which plants are thriving and which are lagging. However, in agriculture, the NDVI can be mainly seen as a quantitative and less qualitative analysis, since infected crops show a low NDVI value due to their reduced leaf mass, but this low NDVI could but may also mean that in the measured area generally little vegetation is present.

The amount of crops available to the farmer is largely predetermined by topographic conditions, which may be affected by the use of water and fertilizers. For precision agriculture is about the most efficient use of available resources, aerial photography by UAVs can take an analytic function and provide useful assistance particularly in the field of irrigation management.

Ensure efficient irrigation with aerial images

The inventory and effectiveness control of essential equipment is an important and time-consuming activity of agricultural businesses.Particularly the monitoring of irrigation technology and the review of efficiency should be mentioned, which may be difficult tasks especially with high-growing crops such as corn. Nevertheless, evidence must be obtained to provide information on whether the irrigation system supplies plants evenly or whether harvest losses are expected by an over- or undersupply of certain areas. An industrial UAV like the Aibot X6 is ideal for this purpose and can check the equipment from a safe distance and can define effects precisely. To obtain this important information, it is possible to equip the UAV with a Parrot Sequoia multi-spectral camera or a Headwall hyperspectral sensor and thus obtain insightful data on the irrigation conditions.

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