Indiana Patent of the Month – December 2021

A variety of systems have been tested and implemented to monitor the health and growth of plants. Some methods involved aerial imaging to track temperature of leaves – a system which is limited by cloud shadows or poor light reflectance throughout the day and is ultimately impractical. Other aerial imaging techniques have tried tracking plant shape or color which may change as a result of some unknown factor. Unfortunately, by the time the color or shape is affected, it’s likely too late for corrective measures to improve plant health. AirScout, Inc. has developed a system which tracks thermal energy from both the soil and plant in a field through aerial imaging.

AirScout was founded by a 5th generation Indiana farmer who noticed just how ineffective ground scouting can be. When it comes to a whole field of crops, the intervention window is quite small – meaning action must be taken quickly. When the window is this short, detection is a priority.

Through aerial imaging, AirScout detects thermal energy of both the soil and plants. It specifically images the energy emitted and the broad spectrum light reflected. Through the use of a microbolometer within the thermal imaging device. The microbolometer detects infrared radiation between 7.5-14 μm wavelengths. With this information, the data can be analysed to monitor the growth of vegetation, predict future growth, and detect disease, insect infestation, and other stress factors. This system provides a method to detect these stresses before they would ever be apparent to visual or near-infrared cameras.

This system removes the limitations of other thermal energy trackers as the microbolometer does not need to measure reflected light from the sun and therefore is not impacted by cloud cover or poor light conditions. The aerial images can be taken by a drone with the required equipment, allowing any trained agronomist to perform a remote inspection. 

Additional information can be included when analysing the thermal image data in order to normalise the data based on the field architecture. For instance, if the field has an irrigation system in place, this may cause deviations in thermal imaging compared to the surrounding soil. If the analytical software can account for these deviations, there is reduced likelihood of falsely detecting health issues.

The system is most effective when aerial images are repeatedly taken over time, in order to track changes rather than a single glimpse at the health. In this way the thermal images can show changes in canopy temperature. For instance, if an insect infestation is noticed, more images over time can show if treatment is effectively removing it or if its spreading. The images are analysed using ADVI™: Advanced Difference Vegetative Index technology. This provides a great range of colours, better representing the field and making it easier to scout for nutrition problems in crops.

Are you developing new technology for an existing application? Did you know your development work could be eligible for the R&D Tax Credit and you can receive up to 14% back on your expenses? Even if your development isn’t successful your work may still qualify for R&D credits (i.e. you don’t need to have a patent to qualify). To find out more, please contact a Swanson Reed R&D Specialist today or check out our free online eligibility test.

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