Drones and research data collection

Drones: Observe, describe and analyze plant growth is essential to plant research, and a whole set of high-tech tools are now available for breeders and agronomists to gather more accurate and better information from the testing research field.

Drones and research data collectionManual data collection takes a lot of time, is prone to human error and subjectivity and thus not always 100% accurate. High Throughput Phenotyping (HTP) devices such as drones represent a great option to tackle those issues.

Drones can take high resolution pictures of your trials to derive many useful traits such as plant counting, plot height, plant health, nutrient deficiency, flowering detection, plant leaf surface (related to plant biomass), etc… Those traits are useful to understand cultivar/nutrient performances in a given environment under test.

Experts in plant measurement and research software editors propose complementary and interfaced solutions to support research departments in settling the complete processing chain of drone captured information and integrating this workflow inside their research information system.

Exporting testing data and preparing drone flight

To ensure a successful drone data collection and get most of the information from data processing, some constraints must be addressed to input in the drone analytics platform all the meta information needed. In preparation to the campaign, the testing team gathers all information about the experiment location, the randomization and the treatments.

Field work preparation can be facilitated through transfers of information between the research information system and the drone analytics platform. According to the traits needed by the research agronomist and the characteristics of the trials,

A list of drones and sensors will be recommended which consists of the best compromise the image quality for your application. Nowadays it is very simple to prepare the drone mission in your office, making the automatically the drones flight plan. Drone flying altitude and way points depends on the selected traits.

Drone image acquisition and processing of testing data

Drone acquisition is very simple: it goes automatically through the field, flying along the field map, and captures the images. Once this step is done, the images are uploaded into the drone data processing platform to be analyzed.

This step is simple and automated as everything has already been defined: data acquisition protocols and data validation. A discussion with the drone experts can be made to understand some of the results and improve the value of the data processed.  The obtained traits are then automatically transferred your research information system.

In addition to material characterization (Chlorophyll and vegetation index, plant counting, elevation and volume, organ counting, disease detection…), strong analytics can assess microplot heterogeneity, hence the quality of the trials at the microplot level.

Drone data centralization and analysis in the testing software

To avoid errors, there should be no manual operation between the drone analysis report and the testing software. Agronomists in collaboration of IT experts made possible by an interface connection which makes data transfer safe and fast.

The research IT system receives all traits and centralizes it into its database. Then researchers retrieve all data from different flights in the experiment manager, compare it with other data and analyze it to make their statistical reports, including regression graphs and histograms. With the IT tools the researchers have all information to take the right decisions.

New technologies such as high throughput aerial imaging applied to plant phenotyping enhances researcher’s knowledge therefore enables them to make more informed decisions.

By Zeeshan Ali

Experienced person with a demonstrated history of working in the fertilizer & Agro-Chemicals industry. Skilled in Plants Nutrition Management, Crop Productivity Enhancement, Fertilizer Management, Advances in Research & Nutrition, Management, Sales, Strategic Planning, and Sales Management. Strong Sales professional graduated from University of Agriculture, Faisalabad.