We are looking at the Rothamsted octocopter
and we have been trying this out now for about 18 months for monitoring field experiments
at Rothamsted. The experiment we have here has got about
5000 plots and in a season we can walk up to about 200 kilometres just monitoring these
plots, so we’re hoping in the future the octocopter will replace a lot of the foot
work. It has got three cameras on there: we’ve
got a conventional RGB camera taking normal images; we’ve got a thermal camera taking
thermal images; and we’ve got a multispectral camera which is taking infrared images.
We can take several hundred images of the experiment on one day, put it into the software
and the software will stitch all the images together and produce an orthomosaic. So that’s
basically an image just like Google Earth, a flat image of the crop. It doesn’t matter
within reason what angle the images are taken at – the software sorts all that out.
And as well as producing an orthomosaic we can produce a digital elevation model and
from that we can extract the height data of the crop. So if we take the first set of photos
when the group is bare, there is no crop there, we can get the level of the ground, and then
through the season we can monitor how the crop is growing.
With the digital cameras they give a much more quantitative measurements of the cover,
so actually the data we should be able to collect more frequently and more accurately.
In the future, the technologies are more likely to develop and there will be new types of
sensors which enable more measurements to be taken. We are quite excited about this
technology. Our use here at Rothamsted is quite specific at the moment using it monitoring
of wheat trials, but it could be used to monitor a whole range of crops or other land uses
like forestry. But its enabling technology for a whole range of research areas, we’ve
got entomologists at Rothamsted that are interested in using it for simulating flight of insects.
But in other countries I’ve heard of people using them for sowing seeds for applying pesticides
to crops, I don’t think that is likely to happen in this country, but yes it is an enabling
technology that could be used for a whole range of uses.