Two powerful trends – the Internet of Things (IoT) and data analytics – are generating lots of press for their industrial and infrastructure applications. But there is another application space that is quietly gaining momentum in the application of these technologies: food production.
Farmers are improving yields, reducing loss, and reducing cost by making more targeted use of resources such as fertilizers and water. The starting point for this “precision agriculture” is data, which sensors and wireless networking play key roles in gathering.
There are essentially three platform types involved in precision agriculture: aerial, ground-based mobile, and stationary systems. The sensors and network technology the platform types tend to utilize do vary, although there is also some overlap.
One thing the platforms share, though, is tremendous diversity in feature sets of the many competing products addressing this application space.
The aerial platforms seek to gather data about crops and fields from above using remote sensing. The sensors may be located on piloted aircraft or satellites, but increasingly are being carried by unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – drones – of either fixed-wing or multi-copter design.
Outfitted with a precision positioning sensor, such as the Ublox F9 precision GNSS module, drones are particularly suitable for surveying small- to medium-sized fields for plant health monitoring, with aircraft and satellites providing larger area surveys.
The primary sensor in plant health monitoring is a multi-spectral camera that can take high-resolution images in both visible and near-infrared (NIR) light. Most CMOS image sensors can provide such images, although most commercial cameras cannot. The key to this apparent contradiction lies in filtering.