Drone improvements to make agriculture smarter

Agriculture Drones

This post originally appeared on https://www.engineersaustralia.org.au/portal/news/drone-improvements-make-agriculture-smarter.

[Editor’s Note: Drones are being used in Agriculture for collecting data over vast and remote areas, in a quick and efficient way. The data is used for early detection of diseases and pests.]

Aerospace engineers at the UK’s Loughborough University are researching how they can improve drones, in order to better fulfil remote data collection requirements.

As the global population continues to grow, agricultural authorities, particularly in populous countries like China, are focused on increasing food production, developing technologies to help evaluate soil and crop health in order to produce more for less.

Professor Wen-Hua Chen is leading the research team from the Department of Aeronautical and Automotive Engineering. He says increasing and ageing populations as well as a growing global demand for energy and fresh water means agriculture is facing serious challenges around the world.

“The likelihood of extreme weather events occurring more often also threatens food production, which is why remote data collection to evaluate soil and crop health has an important role to play in developing sustainable agriculture for rapidly developing countries like China,” Professor Chen explained.

To do this unmanned autonomous ground and air vehicles, such as fixed wing aircraft or quadrotors are needed to collect data over vast, remote areas quickly and efficiently, relaying timely and repetitive information about crops spanning wide areas.

“This data can be utilised in a variety of ways including for the early detection of diseases and pests, but there is still work to be done in ensuring unmanned ground and air vehicles can cover vast areas to return more data without hefty operation costs and reliance upon the operator’s experience and skills.”

The project will involve developing computer algorithms that help drones fly with minimal human intervention, while accelerating the speed with which they collect data, and the detail of data they gather.

The data provided by these sensors and cameras mounted on these aircraft include soil moisture and nutrition measurements, and automatic detection of weeds, which will lead to greater understanding of plant science, pest and disease, helping boost farming resilience and food security.

The drones can also coordinate with autonomous mechanical weeders for treatment of crops, identifying and destroying weeds that threaten crops.

Other partners in the project include Cranfield University, the University of Manchester, and the National Institute of Agricultural Botany (NIAB) EMR, along with Beijing Aerospace Automatic Control Institute and Beihang University (BUAA).

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