MSU lands first drone

Sep 10, 2013
Farmers can now get a birds-eye view of their fields -- in full HD -- thanks to Michigan State University landing its first drone. Credit: Courtesy of G.L. Kohuth

Farmers can now get a birds-eye view of their fields – in full HD – thanks to Michigan State University landing its first drone.

MSU researchers are using its first to help farmers maximize yields by improving nitrogen and water management and reducing environmental impact such as nitrate or .

For this initiative, MSU's UAV measures how crops react to stress, such as drought, nutrients deficiency or pests. The drone flies over the field documenting the field's status ­– down to centimeters. The portrait gives farmers details on the current health of their crops.

Armed with this knowledge, farmers can quickly pinpoint problem areas and address them with a precise rifle, as opposed to, a shotgun approach, said Bruno Basso, MSU ecosystem scientist.

"When you have a cut and need disinfectant, you don't dive into a pool of medicine; you apply it only where need it and in the quantity that is strictly necessary," said Bruno, who is also a professor at MSU's Kellogg Biological Station. "Rather than covering the entire field with fertilizer, it can be applied exactly where it's needed. We basically try to do the right thing, at right place, at the right time"

The UAV has three sensors: a high-resolution camera; a , used to monitor plant temperature and hydration; and a , which measures individual plant height in centimeters. Unlike planes, the drone can fly at low altitudes (less than 100 feet) and in most as long it is not very windy, covers a pre-programmed pattern on autopilot and provides more accurate data in a cost-effective manner.

"The UAV is like an X-ray," Basso said. "Before we can diagnose the problem, we need to collect as many details as possible."

The response to light varies among plants based on their health. Through combinations of spectral reflectance bands, researchers can determine the plants' main source of stress, such as water or nitrogen.

MSU researchers are using its first unmanned aerial vehicle to help farmers maximize yields by improving nitrogen and water management and reducing environmental impact such as nitrate leaching or nitrous oxide emissions. Credit: Courtesy G.L. Kohuth

With X-rays in hand, Basso, part of MSU's Global Water Initiative, can plug in the data into the System Approach for Land-Use Sustainability model. SALUS is a new generation crop tool to forecast crop, soil, water, and nutrient conditions in current and future climates. It also can evaluate crop rotations, planting dates, irrigation and fertilizer use and project crop yields and their impact on the land.

The combination of drone and SALUS allows farmers to maximize their efforts in a sustainable fashion. They can distinguish plants that need water or nitrogen, and treat their plants – rather than their entire field – immediately.

"It's based on actual need, not on tradition, not on history or a plan recommended by someone else," Basso said. "It's what plants need now and is the ultimate in sustainability."

This isn't scientific theory, either. This is what's happening in the farmers' own fields, playing out in terms of profit per acre ­and preserving their environment, rather than in laboratories.

"You have to use technology to help improve people's lives," Basso said. "The combination of UAV and SALUS is powerful and accessible."

Deploying the UAV to aid farmers is serving as the inaugural use of MSU's . Basso is open to sharing it with others and collaborating on new research. The potential of drones has yet to be maximized, he said.

Explore further: Making LED-illuminated advertisements light and flexible

Related Stories

How do you feed 9 billion people?

Jun 09, 2013

An international team of scientists has developed crop models to better forecast food production to feed a growing population – projected to reach 9 billion by mid-century – in the face of climate change.

Malawi's bountiful harvests and healthier children

Feb 17, 2013

Through research led by Michigan State University, crop yields have increased dramatically. The children of Ekwendi, Malawi, also have gained weight and are taller. These improvements bring smiles to Sieglinde Snapp, MSU ...

Crops watering by phone

Jul 16, 2013

Thanks to a new app, smart phones could help monitor irrigation water use according to need. This could ensure that food is available on our table is the produced in a sustainable way.

Recommended for you

Making LED-illuminated advertisements light and flexible

9 hours ago

VTT is involved in a European project, developing novel LED advertising displays, which combine thin, lightweight and bendable structures with advanced optical quality. The project will implement, for example, a LED display ...

Detecting human life with remote technology

11 hours ago

Flinders engineering students Laith Al-Shimaysawee and Ali Al-Dabbagh have developed ground-breaking new technology for detecting human life using remote cameras.

Team develops faster, higher quality 3-D camera

Apr 24, 2015

When Microsoft released the Kinect for Xbox in November 2010, it transformed the video game industry. The most inexpensive 3-D camera to date, the Kinect bypassed the need for joysticks and controllers by ...

Researchers finding applications for tough spinel ceramic

Apr 24, 2015

Imagine a glass window that's tough like armor, a camera lens that doesn't get scratched in a sand storm, or a smart phone that doesn't break when dropped. Except it's not glass, it's a special ceramic called ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.