New drone app could help farmers track plant growth and predict yield

Photo: K-State

MANHATTAN — A new app being developed by Kansas State University and a private company could change the way farmers are able to track plant growth and predict yield. However, they won’t be doing it from their smart phones.

Kansas State University recently signed a research partnership with PrecisionHawk Inc. The  Raleigh, North Carolina-based company develops unmanned aerial systems, or UAS. They also create applications that manage the data collected by the drones.

The four-year partnership begins this month. University officials praise the partnership as a win for both the university and PrecisionHawk.

“Unmanned aerial vehicles are an emerging technology that will support precision agriculture, and Kansas State University’s expertise in building and protecting global food systems makes us a great fit for this kind of collaboration,” said Karen Burg, vice president for research and professor of chemical engineering.

Drones look to be the future of agriculture, and K-State and K-State Salina have formed a research team to develop an agricultural app for unmanned aerial vehicles. The new technology being developed would allow the UAE’s to take photos of corn fields (and eventually other crops), and then turn those images into useful data. The information could help predict potential crop production issues that includes yield and plant growth.

“There has been a big boom in UAS use and in the data being collected,” said Ignacio Ciampitti, assistant professor of agronomy and the project’s lead. “The key issue now is not whether this technology can collect the images we need, but how we can translate those pictures into scientifically sound and useful information.”

Meanwhile, researchers at the Salina campus are conducting flights to figure out what photo and video sensors will work best for the ambitious project.

According to the university, Ciampitti is taking information from the images and helping develop algorithms that can be converted into computer software or apps for PrecisionHawk’s Algorithm Marketplace. It’s a new app store that provides data analysis tools for the UAS market. Existing apps already allow UAE’s to count the plants in a field and estimate the plants’ health once the crop matures.

Ciampitti believes the technology they are developing will also be used to predict similar outputs for soybeans, sorghum and other crops.

“Aerial data is an exciting and new component of precision agriculture, but in order to leverage its full potential, growers need more than imagery from a UAV,” said Allison Ferguson, director of education and research partnerships at PrecisionHawk.

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