Headwall Photonics Blog

Small UAVs - Precision agriculture & hyperspectral remote sensing

Posted by David Bannon on Mon, Apr 09, 2012

Micro Hyperspec UAV Picture 2Offering improvements in agricultural yields and precision farming, hyperspectral sensors allow producers and processors to make the foods we eat safer along with providing the advantages of higher quality and hopefully, better taste.  Based in Massachusetts, Headwall Photonics, designs and manufactures small, lightweight sensors that are deployed aboard airborne platforms ranging from piloted aircraft to unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). With experience developed within the military sector, the company has established quite a business enabling the commercial use of very small, cost-effective UAVs for remote sensing and agriculture applications.

In the same way that food-processing lines are evolving from straight-forward machine-vision systems to spectral imaging, many agriculturalists and food producers are moving beyond simple appearance and color measurement to more advanced hyperspectral imaging. The richness of the data collected offers farmers a sense of what to plant, where to plant, and when to harvest. High-value crops such as pecans, grapes, walnuts and others need to be managed with precision to yield a profitable harvest. Nutrient levels, ripeness, and disease conditions can be ‘seen’ by hyperspectral sensors based on the chemical “fingerprint” of the crops rather than on the visual appearance; thus offering the ability to implement cost-effective solutions early in the growth cycle of the harvest.

Since these imaging sensors can be and are rapidly being deployed aboard inexpensive UAVs, hundreds of acres can be surveyed and monitored very quickly. The data-processing power coupled to these hyperspectral sensors means that more actionable crop and agricultural information can be obtained. The result is better overall crop management across the farming and food production industries. Where famine relief is acute, airborne hyperspectral sensors quickly lead to better decisions about what crops to plant, where to plant them, and when to harvest them. The specific ‘spectral signatures’ of diseased plants, contaminants, and ripeness conditions mean that hyperspectral technology can clearly be used to ensure healthier foods for all and a more profitable and timely crop harvest.

As a previous topic, Headwall mentioned an important specialty crop in the United States being grape production and vineyard management. One of Headwall’s hyperspectral customers, VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging, is a company that uses high-resolution, scientifically calibrated data products to assist framers in crop uniformity optimization, irrigation management, and harvest planning. “Hyperspectral data allows us to provide more specific actionable information to our clients who manage high-value crops,” said Dr. Matthew Staid, President of Saint Helena, CA-based VineView. The Headwall airborne hyperspectral sensors can be mounted on small UAVs or manned aircraft and means that VineView cannot only map vigor or stress within crops but can better identify the specific causes of those stresses. 

Headwall continues to advance the agriculture and remote sensing industries through the deployment of cost-effective hyeprspectral sensors that have a positive impact on farmers, food processors, and agricultural research scientists around the world.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Airborne, Remote Sensing, SWIR, agriculture