Headwall Photonics Blog

We're Giving Drones a Good Name

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Oct 07, 2015

Drones seem to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. The media reminds us that they're nothing but nuisances: peeking at people, crashing into stadiums, hovering over the White House, and causing airliners to take evasive maneuvers. The FAA in this country is taking an active stance on the safe operation of drones, and the topic is being explored elsewhere around the globe. What everyone recognizes is that it's a world full of both promise and uncertainty. Indeed, the automobile was born under the same set of circumstances!

Having just returned from a week-long conference in Reno, Nevada, my post today is meant to emphasize the good work drones can do. The biggest among them is precision agriculture, where a drone outfitted with the right instrumentation can hover over orchards and vineyards and spot telltale signs of diseases that aren't readily seen from the ground. Monitoring irrigation levels and fertilizer effectiveness are two other key applications, as are climatology, pipeline monitoring, and geology.

Two makers of UAVs present at the conference are Headwall customers. PrecisionHawk builds a fixed-wing system while ServiceDrones offers a multi-rotor craft. There are reasons for using either. The amount of room you have to take off and land is one consideration; the overall battery life (flight duration) is another; and payload capacity is a third. The key task is to match everything to the mission, which is why integration is so important.

All told, the packaged technology of drones and sensors allows researchers to 'see' the invisible and learn more about the environment. Primarily this is territory largely inaccessible by any other ground-based means, which puts the risk to humans (and airliners) at the lower end of the scale. The use of drones has exploded for two primary reasons. Chief among them is affordability, which positions them much more favorably compared with manned fixed-wing aircraft. Second is ease of use. Drones are now more 'mainstream' than ever, and their ability to carry reasonable instrumentation payloads allows them to do this kind of scientific 'remote sensing.'

Instruments such as hyperspectral sensors are getting smaller, lighter, and more affordable. With them, scientists can now unlock hidden secrets and spot trends by analyzing very detailed, data-rich images.  We are helping to create a 'new set of eyes' for the scientific community. The drones themselves become a vital 'delivery system,' and the pairing of these technologies is giving birth to the kind of conference such as the ASPRS Mapping event in Reno. It was a combination of test flying and presentations, with the flying happening in gorgeous Palomino Valley located about 35 miles north of Reno.

Through it all, safety was paramount during the flying demonstrations. FAA inspectors were with us every step of the way to make sure that all the programmed flight plans were adhered to. Each drone had 'N' registration numbers, as a regular aircraft would. This is serious business with huge upside potential for geologists, crop scientists, the petroleum industry, and for environmentalists. It pays to understand the regulations and work within them, because this whole business is a 'new frontier' for everyone. And while the term 'Drone' conjures up a rather negative image, the more proper description is, "Unmanned Airborne System," or 'UAS' for short. These truly are 'systems' because they pair a flying machine (either fixed-wing or multi-rotor) with instruments they carry.

And what kind of instruments? For precision agriculture, a hyperspectral sensor covering the Visible and Near-Infrared (VNIR) range of 400-1000nm will spot disease conditions on tree canopies. With entire economies depending on crops (hello, Florida citrus!), the ability to spot tree-borne diseases and other plant-stress situations is massively beneficial. First, the instruments are precise and can spot the 'invisible.' Second, the drones allow for the rapid and complete coverage of remote areas that might take days or weeks to map. And perhaps most telling, some disease conditions will only be visible from the top down rather than from the bottom up. An inspector on a ladder under a tree will likely miss something that the drone spots, and this can mean the difference between a bountiful harvest and a financial catastrophe. Any high-value crop (think citrus, wine grapes, pistachios, coffee beans, walnuts, etc.) needs this kind of imaging oversight. Our Nano-Hyperspec is extremely popular for this kind of work.

When it comes to airborne work, one of the most desired attributes of a hyperspectral sensor is a wide field of view. Simply put, the sensor needs to deliver crisp hyperspectral data at the edges of its field of view just as it would directly underneath the flight path. The wider and more sharp the field of view, the more efficient the flight path can be. And when it comes to drones, battery life determines the overall flight duration. So a hyperspectral sensor having an aberration-corrected wide field of view can cover more ground for a given flight envelope. More image data is thus collected for every flight, making the research project very efficient.

In addition to hyperspectral sensors, drones will also need a GPS to tie the incoming spectral data to its exact geographic location. Another frequently asked-for instrument is LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging Sensor), which provides some elevation detail that is paired with the hyperspectral data. Obviously the combination of all these separate instruments makes for a payload that consumes valuable weight and space, and thus out of the realm of possibility for today's new breed of hand-launched UAVs. With that in mind, my company (Headwall Photonics, Inc.) takes time to engineer and 'integrate' the sensor so that it is as small and as light as possible. Combining the data storage inside the sensor is one way; direct-attaching the GPS is another. The connecting cables you don't need mean weight you don't have to lift!

Finally, conferences like the ASPRS event in Reno are places where people can learn. Understanding the challenges and potential integration pitfalls is what we at Headwall were there to convey, and our message was very well received. The mistake we all want to avoid is having users blinded by the promise of airborne hyperspectral imaging, dashing off and grabbing any affordable UAV and bolting instruments onto it. For one, such an approach is dangerously naive. Second, the time needed to integrate everything is practically always underestimated. And third, it becomes a very costly endeavor when the price of time is factored in.

At Headwall, although our business is the production of the industry's best hyperspectral imaging sensors, we understand integration issues better than anyone. We're here to help navigate the process and get the scientific research community in the air faster, doing all the good things 'drones' can do.

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Tags: hyperspectral, Remote Sensing, Sensors, UAS, VNIR, UAV

Headwall's Field-of-View Calculator

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Mon, Mar 17, 2014

When it comes to hyperspectral imaging, it isn’t always about the hardware. Before users even get to the stage of specifying a sensor instrument, they need to ask a few questions:

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Sensors

Headwall Remote Sensing Capabilities Seen “Down Under”

Posted by David Bannon on Wed, Jul 31, 2013

This past week, Headwall remote sensing team finished a productive week Down Under at the International Geoscience and Remote Sensing Symposium (IGARSS) in Melbourne, Australia.  The conference, organized by the IEEE, comprises a ‘Who’s Who’ across the global remote sensing community. But curiously absent were representatives from the United States, probably reflecting the topic du jour: sequestration. Imagine holding a geo-spatial and remote sensing conference and no one from NASA was able to attend?

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Sensors, Micro Hyperspec, UAS, SWIR, Sensing, VNIR, Satellites, UAV

Hyperspectral and Remote Sensing the focus at EARSeL!

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Apr 03, 2013

Headwall's exhibition schedule kicks into high gear this month. First up is our appearance at the 8th Imaging Spectrometry Workshop, sponsored by The European Association of Remote Sensing Laboratories (EARSeL). This event gives visitors the opportunity to understand how hyperspectral imaging can be a valuable scientific tool for the research community. Precision agriculture, mining & minerals, petroleum pipeline surveillance, and disaster mitigation are just a few application areas and more are uncovered all the time as the technology becomes more affordable and easier to use.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, DSS, Remote Sensing, Sensors, Micro Hyperspec, Sensing, UAV, ALAVA Ingenieros

Resource Exploration Using Hyperspectral Imaging

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Dec 19, 2012

Headwall utilizes hyperspectral sensing technology as an essential industrial inspection platform and has made this technology increasingly valuable across a wider spectrum of commercial applications and most notably in the oil & gas industry.  Companies in the petro-chemical industry focus much of their financial capital and effort on efficient pipeline distribution, refinery operations, and environmental monitoring.  Not only for exploration, but also to keep to keep their refining and distribution infrastructure safe.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Sensors, Sensing

Remote Sensing: All Eyes on Munich

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Fri, Jul 20, 2012

The IEEE is an esteemed organization with top-notch events held worldwide. These events draw experts from across industry, government and education.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Sensors, Sensing, Satellites, UAV, agriculture

Hyperspectral Imaging - Next Generation Machine Vision Platform for Food Safety and Quality

Posted by David Bannon on Tue, Jun 26, 2012

Bosoon Park, author of this blog entry, works as an Agricultural Engineer on behalf of the USDA in Georgia. He has done extensive research on hyperspectral and Raman imaging as it applies to food inspection and agriculture. Author of numerous published papers on the subject, Bosoon will be co-presenting a discussion on hyperspectral imaging at the annual conference of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers to be held in Dallas July 30 through August 2.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Sensors, SWIR, food processing, agriculture, Raman, USDA, plant phenotyping, Raman imaging

Headwall Photonics: In Good Company

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Jun 20, 2012

They say, "You're judged by the company you keep..." And with that, we're very proud to have been chosen as a 2012 R&D Award recipient from R&D Magazine. We nominated our Hyperspec RECON hyperspectral sensor because it pulls together cutting-edge spectral imaging technologies and embodies the very essence of innovation that the award competition was designed to foster. An independent judging panel and the editors of R&D Magazine obviously agreed, and now Hyperspec RECON proudly sits as one of the world's most technologically significant products developed over the past year.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Defense, Sensors, Security, diffraction gratings

Hyperspectral Imaging & Agriculture: A Perfect Match

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, May 02, 2012

Spectral imaging and agriculture seems to be a perfect match. Technologies and techniques such as hyperspectral in-line inspection and Raman imaging instrumentation are well suited to very high-speed processing environments such as those found in agricultural processing plants for meat, poultry, and specialty crops.

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Tags: hyperspectral imaging, hyperspectral, Headwall Photonics, Sensors, agriculture

Surveying the Land Below: Hyperspectral Sensors go Airborne

Posted by Christopher Van Veen on Wed, Mar 14, 2012

Remote sensing is a very important application and perhaps the 'killer app' for hyperspectral imaging technology, particularly when it comes to airborne scientific techniques. With traditional roots in research, Headwall’s airborne hyperspectral sensors are considered an industry-standard research tool and have been routinely utilized for the study of such topics as climate change, environmental mapping and monitoring, biodiversity research, and studies of the effects of carbon emissions on the environment.
 
Headwall’s experience is that it often takes approximately 10 years for technology to roll out of the military/defense markets and be ready for commercial applications. One particular market note is the use of Headwall’s hyperspectral sensors for commercial remote sensing applications. This is proving to be a very large and significant market. For example, one of Headwall’s customers is VineView, a commercial airborne company located in California with a focus on providing precision agriculture information and aerial imagery to more than 800 vineyards in the western United States. Dr. Matthew Staid, President of VineView Scientific Aerial Imaging, is a leader in the utilization of hyperspectral imaging for the management of 'high-value crops.'  His company provides airborne remote sensing services to the winegrape industry consisting of hyperspectral, thermal, and infrared sensing data for precision farming and profitable agricultural management of vineyards.
 
VineView’s sensor needs are focused in two key areas – very high spatial resolution coupled with extremely fast data processing.  One key attribute of hyperspectral imaging is the amount of spectral and spatial data collected. To capitalize on the inherent value of hyperspectral data requires an ability to rapidly process all this data into a geo-rectified data set. Airborne hyperspectral solutions require high performance, aberration-corrected sensors as well as hyperspectral data-processing units to collect and 'package' this data.  These rapid data-acquisition capabilities allow VineView to expand aerial services beyond the winegrape industry and into areas such as citrus production, tree nuts, and cotton.
 
With the ability to 'see' beyond the visible spectrum of 380nm to 780nm, Headwall’s hyperspectral imagers are readily available and optimized for many different spectral regions to a base of worldwide customers. One common configuration deployed by a number of remote sensing customers is the use of a Hyperspec VNIR sensor and a Hyperspec SWIR sensor to cover the broad spectrum of 380 to 2500 nm.
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Tags: Headwall Photonics, Airborne, Remote Sensing, Sensors, VineView