Sensors - Agri-EPI Centre - Engineering Precision Innovation

Sensors

The use of sensors is an increasing part of novel farming technology. Feeding back data for analysis on a wide range of different areas, both for plant and animal monitoring and analysis of behaviour in different environments. Supporting the evolution of modern farming techniques, at Agri-EPI we explore and deliver precision farming engineering, technology and innovation in UK agriculture across soil, crops and livestock.

Hyperspectral UAV

Agri-EPI Centre has invested in the Hyperspectral UAV.

Compared to multispectral imagery, hyperspectral imagery measures energy in narrower and more numerous bands, thus giving much more information on target. Hyperspectral image data is 3D cube, where each pixel holds a full spectrum across the range. Since spectra are as unique as ‘fingerprints’ to target, hyperspectral imagery can unveil features that multispectral imagery may miss out on.

Hyperspectral imaging technology has been under research for decades and has been demonstrated to be very powerful in many application areas including agriculture. Especially in recent years, with a more robust and rugged imaging product embedded onto the UAV platform, agri-tech has seen revolutionary improvements.

The HySpex turnkey UAV solution with Mjolnir VS-620 and Lidar includes all the necessary hardware and software for flight planning, data collection, data processing and calibration. The system is provided with a UAV platform, 3-axis gimbal mount for the hyperspectral unit with Lidar and corresponding spectral calibration, radiometric calibration and geometric calibration. The geometric calibration includes a sensor model for VNIR and SWIR hyperspectral sensor heads, subpixel co-alignment of the 2 sensor heads, boresight calibration of the 2 sensor heads and internal IMU system, boresight calibration of the Lidar unit and internal IMU system.

There’s a broad application potential, including assisting in the development of products in the following application areas:
• Drought/water/nutrient stress monitoring
• Plant pathogens detection
• Analysis of soil properties/Determination of soil types
• Land mapping
• Yield forecasting
• Land management

UAV System (XQ-1400S BFD HySpex Edition):
1. <25 kg MTOW with Mjolnir and gimbal
2. Up to 25 min flight endurance with 8 kg payload
3. Fitted with high performance GNSS/GPS and IMU to enable data to be captured to high geolocation accuracy
4. Fitted with advanced 3-axis digital gimbal to compensate for the pitching

Sensing System (HySpex Mjolnir VS-620, Velodyne VLP-32C) :
1. Fully-integrated co-aligned hyperspectral visible and near-infrared (VNIR) and short-wave infrared (SWIR) (400 – 2500nm) and LiDAR sensors, along with in-flight data capture and storage system
2. Spectral coverage of 400 – 2500 nm, with spectral resolution of 3 nm in VNIR and 5.1 nm over SWIR range. Bit resolution 12bit in VNIR and 16 bit in SWIR.
3. Double resolution data in the VNIR range
4. High-resolution (0.33 degree) LiDAR sensor, with 360° surround view with real-time 3D data

They Hyperspectral UAV has potential use as groundtruth technology for other technologies/systems as well.

For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com

Multi-sensor VTOL UAV

Agri-tech has undergone tremendous improvements with the introduction of remote sensing technologies, making many agricultural properties that were difficult to achieve before now accessible.

Multi-Spectral imaging has been widely used on satellites (e.g. Landsat) for earth observation science at a global scale. In the agricultural domain, UAVs as a platform have played a major role utilising various payload sensors including multi-spectral imaging.

The advantage of multi-spectral imaging is that it extends human sight sensitivity beyond the visible spectrum. Some wavelengths that are widely recognised for applications, such as the normalised difference vegetative index (NDVI), can be deployed into multi-spectral imaging. Nonetheless, it has been proved to be very useful in many other fields, greatly empowering the advancement of agriculture. The adoption of UAVs has made it possible to achieve large-scale mapping and thus better agricultural management.

Agri-EPI Centre has invested in the Multi-spectral VTOL UAV which has a potential use as ground truth technology for other technologies and/or systems.

This UAV and sensing payload system can also be used for a variety of fruit orchard use-cases which include:
• Estimation of leaf area index
• Estimation of canopy volume
• Estimation of water stress
• Fruit biomass estimation
• Temperature variation across the orchard
• Temperature variation of specific plants over time
• Fruit count estimation

It can also be used in other agricultural areas which include:
• Pest infestation detection
• Quantity moisture levels
• Analyse wildlife damage
• Vegetation index creation like NDVI
• Crop counting
• Create 3D photogrammetry maps

For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com.

Mirico’s ORION®

The agricultural sector is a significant contributor of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, with the IPCC estimating that agriculture and land use are responsible for 21% of all greenhouse emissions, and with 52% of nitrous oxide emissions coming from the sector. To help understand exactly where and how these greenhouse gases are emitted during agricultural processes, reliable measurement methods are needed. As a powerful greenhouse gas with 84 times the Global Warming Potential (GWP) of carbon dioxide, methane (CH₄) needs to be accurately monitored, and its emission response to increased temperature needs to be quantified.

Mirico’s Orion® CH₄ technology has been developed to monitor methane emissions on a continuous basis across a large area, in all weathers. At the heart of all Mirico products is a revolutionary new technology- Laser Dispersion Spectroscopy (LDS). Whereas traditional optical sensing systems measure the intensity of returned light, LDS is measuring the change in frequency of the returned light. The technology provides real-time monitoring of emissions, operating specifically in the mid infra-red spectral region and enables the collection and interpretation of emissions data in all weather conditions. From this data users are able to gain insights based on accurate continuous reporting, even in fog, rain, snow and particulate affected environments. The Mirico Orion® is able to carry out fugitive emissions monitoring, biomethane emissions monitoring, greenhouse gas analysis, and agricultural gas monitoring.

Key benefits:
Compared with conventional methods of monitoring methane and ammonia concentrations, Mirico’s Laser Dispersion
Spectroscopy technology offers:
• Accurate, precise and reliable measurements
• Consistent performance in adverse weather conditions (rain, fog, snow, dust)
• Large area coverage with simple, robust equipment
• Autonomous and continuous monitoring
• Real time, reproducible data for more meaningful analysis

Agri-EPI has invested in Mirico’s Orion® methane measurement system and will be using it in funded project work at its state-of-the-art South West Dairy Development Centre (SWDDC) in Somerset, which aims to offer a fresh vision for sustainable UK milk production. Our unique version of this sensor, including bespoke additions to the Mirico software suite, will be available for research use at SWDDC and can be used for trials such as outdoor and indoor methane monitoring, feed trials, herbal leys trials and ground truthing of novel sensors and monitoring methods. For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com.

Robotriks RTU v4. Light Agricultural Robot

Key benefits:

Sustainable
• Fully electric
• Lightweight for low damage

Autonomous
• Simple pre-planned autonomy with object detection
• High-level autonomy with ROS compatibility

Extendable
• Open architecture for adding new sensors and end effectors

Adjustable
• Interchangeable truss frame for multiple scenarios

Agri-EPI is excited to have invested in the Robotriks RTU v4. Light Agricultural Robot. Designed as an adaptable autonomous agricultural platform, this robot aids in developing agri-robotics components. It is fully open for developers to test their new technologies in the field without needing to develop their own robotic platform. This capability will help open the doors for a vast range of novel agricultural systems which maximise the benefit offered by robotics.

As a lightweight agricultural robot, the RTU represents a new approach to the farming cycle. Rather than having the size and power to pull up an entire field, light robots can conduct per-plant farming operations with minimum soil damage, maximising yields whilst minimising environmental impact.

Agri-EPIs RTU fleet have three control methods available depending on the need of the developer. At its simplest, the units can be manually controlled using an intuitive remote-control system. As a middle ground, they include an advanced autopilot system meaning the robots can drive themselves around using pre-planned routes with collision avoidance. Finally, the systems also include a powerful on-board computer running ROS, which has been configured to send control commands allowing intelligent autonomy to be quickly integrated.

These robots have also had a range of sensors integrated with them to allow for high level autonomy, mapping and collision avoidance. This includes RTK-GNSS for initial localisation, a Velodyne LiDAR for 3D point mapping and front and rear facing ZED 3D cameras for local obstacle detection.

Built almost entirely out of aluminium with mounting surfaces on the top, front and rear of the traction units, the RTU was built to last when out in the
elements. Featuring a low centre of mass and a wide footprint thanks to its tracked design, the RTU can drive in any orientation on surfaces up to a 54-degree incline.

Connecting the traction units is a truss frame made entirely out of 48.3mm scaffolding pipes. By using such a standard material, it means the robot becomes very easy to configure for multiple agricultural scenarios. If a wide wheelbase is needed to cover more rows or tall frame to navigate vineyards, the truss can be simply adjusted to the requirement. With this flexibility it also broadens the realm of modularity.

These robots have been created for the needs of Agri-EPI Centre and our partners as a highly flexible and modular platform and will be gradually improved over time as a collaboration between ourselves and the manufacturer.

For information on renting out our technical assets please contact team@agri-epicentre.com

Drone use in UK agriculture

By: Claire Hodge, Head of Crops at Agri-EPI Centre

Agricultural drones, also known as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), are set to disrupt the agriculture industry owing to their immense potential to make agriculture more efficient, precise, and productive, driving the economic case for drone use. With farmers grappling with mounting pressure to boost production while adapting to climate change and dealing with increasing costs of production and changing support frameworks, drones present a compelling solution to improve the efficiency of the entire farming enterprise.

Growers and their advisors can exploit the technology for data collection to identify stressed areas of crops, study and map farmland, and improve irrigation efficiency. In addition to spraying water, fertilisers or pesticides on crops, drones can be used for livestock monitoring and tracking animal population and health.

Increased efficiency will drive the economic case for drone use. Drones can cover large areas of land, quickly and efficiently, provide quick and low-cost farm-related data to assist in effective decision making, and improve yield estimations, helping growers efficiently plan for storage, labour, farm resources, and transportation requirements with more certainty about the quality and quantity of the fruit crop being produced. Drones provide a higher level of accuracy, potentially reducing the frequency and quantity of agrochemicals used.

Labour shortages are a big challenge with the changing roles on farm, and through automation, drones allow labour to be redeployed to other farm operations. Making these jobs safer by reducing exposure to chemicals using drones to spray crops means that fewer staff will be exposed to chemicals compared to manual spraying.

The environmental impact of food production is under scrutiny and drones can help farmers reduce food waste by improving crop quality, reducing inputs and lowering CO2 emissions. The addition of drones in fields should also reduce the travel of heavy equipment going through the field on such a regular basis.

Precision agriculture practices, which can help farmers make better-informed decisions, have evolved significantly over recent years, with the global market now estimated to reach $43.4 billion by 2025. While drones have not yet made it into the mainstream agriculture space, they are playing an increasingly important role in precision farming, helping agriculture professionals lead the way with sustainable farming practices, while also protecting and increasing profitability.

The demand for agriculture drone services is consistently growing around the world, particularly Asia, South America, and Australia. Drone service providers are offering advanced solutions with improved quality and in-depth analysis, spurring service adoption. The demand for agriculture drones for mapping and spraying is substantially growing among the services, in areas of extensive production, remote locations, and low populations where access is difficult.

The landscape in the UK certainly differs to that of extensive cropping systems with many UK farmers working close to highly populated areas and with that comes a different set of risk factors to overcome.

Working closely with farmers across the Agri-EPI network and setting up a suite of drone capabilities we understand the true industry needs and the current limiting factors. Farmers want more robust and detailed crop data that will inform their decision making, however regulatory limiting factors for flying drones on farms, skills required to operate drones, and time involved are all concerns that need to be overcome to see this technology gain widespread adoption.

Working at Agri-EPI gives me the opportunity to work with farmers, regulators, and technology developers to overcome these challenges helping create innovative solutions for on-farm drone deployment.

Within the Agri-EPI network we are working with the top fruit industry, to use cutting-edge drone and machine learning technologies to provide growers with detailed crop insights, using drones with multi-spectral, hyper-spectral or lidar sensors with the aim to increase productive yield from an orchard by 10%.

To overcome the need for training on farm we are working with companies who can deliver ‘drone in a box’ systems where the drone arrives on farm ready to use, designed specifically for the farm needs. Drone in a box service that will allow a grower to remotely trigger a pre-planned drone flight will increase adoption rates.

There are also advantages to the use of BVLOS (Beyond VLOS) flights where one drone and operator can cover much larger areas in a shorter time, something which can be done cost-effectively by a service provider. Current Visual Line of Site VLOS operations are only within 500m. BVLOS (Beyond VLOS) allow the operator to be in an entirely different place to the drone and allow them to cover the last areas without having people on the ground to monitor.

There is ongoing work with HSE and the wider industry to start to answer some of the questions in Spray drone technology in order to implement greater safety measures and improved accuracy. This will allow areas that need low volumes of spray to be targeted and will allow for advantages when traveling across the ground is difficult or remote.

Drone technology is not a solo technology to overcome all on-farm challenges, but part of an integrated solution complimenting satellite and robotic technology and existing farm practice – allowing farmers to pick applications that work for their business.

UK farmers confident about benefits of agri-tech but unsure of its role in net zero, new research suggests

While most UK farmers are using agri-tech, many are doubtful of its ability to help them meet net zero targets, a nationwide survey by Agri-EPI Centre has revealed.

The Agri-EPI research sought to understand how and why farmers are using agri-tech, shed light on barriers to its use and explore the technologies farmers think will be needed in the future.

The research, conducted through interviews with farmers across the UK, found that 78% are using some form of agri-tech, with the highest adoption rates among younger farmers and those with large farms. The biggest reasons for its use are increased productivity and profitability.

Yet, while the same percentage (78%) of farmers believe that it is important to reduce their farm’s greenhouse gas emissions (rising to 94% of those under the age of 45), only just above a third (35%) are confident that technology will help them reach net zero carbon emissions.

One reason for this could be that farmers need greater skills and support to understand the benefits of technology and to adopt it. The research found only half of farmers rate their skills in using agri-tech as ‘good’, with less than half (43%) of all farmers interviewed feeling well supported in introducing or making better use of existing technology.

Agri-EPI centre’s Chief Executive, David Ross, said: “While the majority of UK farmers recognise that agri-tech has an important role in supporting their priorities of productivity and profit, we are struck by the fact that only around a third felt tech has a role to play in environmental sustainability.

“Technology is one of the solutions to helping farmers reduce their emissions –agri-tech that helps farmers be more efficient and productive usually offers a win-win for sustainability.

“The findings of our research provide important insights for Agri-EPI and our fellow Agri-Tech Centres, as well as for those with a role in developing, evaluating and promoting technology, particularly the agri-food sector, policy makers, agri-tech companies and the R&D community. The farmers we spoke to told us they need accessible training, funding, and more evidence and independent advice to help them make the best use of agri-tech. We want to collaborate with partners across all of areas to ensure the benefits of agri-tech is make clear and the avenues to adoption are easily accessible.”

Of the farmers interviewed who are using agri-tech, popular technologies include machine guidance systems (40% reported they are using this), soil mapping (35%), livestock growth monitoring (30%) and variable rate application (28%).

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm.

Robotics and automation for a variety of purposes featured strongly in farmers’ thoughts on the tech that will be important for the future, along with the capability to integrate data gathered by different systems on the farm. The findings of the research will be discussed at Agri-EPI’s annual conference, titled The Path to Sustainability, on 28 October.