The Drone Technology for Digital Phenotyping
Based on a quick survey conducted on social medias recently, the vast majority of agtech professionals (72%) think that drone is today the most versatile and easy to use device for plant phenotyping. It is true that, the latest improvements in drone technology makes this type of systems more performant and more accessible than ever. Thus, most of the crop researchers we work with around the globe are internalizing drone data acquisitions to make high-throughput plant phenotyping part of their plant assessment routine.
With modern technology, flying a drone is easy. Almost anyone can now get their hands on affordable equipment that you can familiarize yourself with fairly quickly to take-off and land by the press of a few buttons on a tablet. Once data is acquired, Hiphen then provides a hassle-free experience in the sense that all you have to do is upload your data on our cloud platform and then download your results – all the heavy lifting machinery in between is our responsibility. What one gets in return from drone acquisitions is an extensive list of valuable agronomic traits that accurately and objectively describe and assess plant architecture, behavior and sanitary state. You can consult our drone phenotyping catalog for more information about the traits that can be computed.
Equipment from manufacturers such as DJI are reliable for plant phenotyping, and ensure a frictionless experience with more and more automation and fewer interactions between the pilot and the machine. That being said, while most agtech experts agree that flying a drone is easy, flying a drone for agriculture requires special knowledge about the appropriate sensor choices and configuration, flight parameters and protocol to ensure that you acquire top-quality data.
Below is a summary of the 5 mistakes that tend to happen while flying a drone for plant phenotyping:
- Resolution and Altitude
The most common mistake is to acquire images with insufficient resolution. The compromise between speed and resolution (i.e. the number of pixels per ground cm) is critical and choosing inappropriate sensors and altitudes can result in poor data quality. Depending on the traits you are interested in analyzing, these parameters have to be carefully specified in advance.
- Overlap and traces
Front and side overlap ratios ensure that each of your trial plots will be photographed multiple times to be able to generate an accurate field map – often referred to as an orthomosaic in our photogrammetry jargon. Setting the wrong overlapping parameters is very likely to result in data gaps in parts of your field trials.
- Ground Control Points (GCP)
GCPs are targets placed on the ground that have to be geo-referenced and hooked so they remain in the same precise spot during all the flights of the campaign. Not using this common practice is likely to result in inaccurate field maps which will make time series analysis almost impossible.
- Weather and phenology
You are measuring plants, and plants are living organisms. Depending on your crop, genotypes, experiment, and the traits that have to be measured, it is important to acquire top-quality data at the appropriate phenological stage. In parallel, certain weather conditions have to be carefully anticipated to avoid blurry, overexposed or underexposed images, or even multispectral image processing being negatively impacted by wet field conditions.
- Sensor configuration and orientation
As mentioned above, the choice of sensor is critical to deliver the appropriate image resolution, along with the orientation angle of the camera. Setting the wrong sensor parameters and not orientating your camera at NADIR is likely to negatively impact the quality of your drone data.
At Hiphen, we are present at every step of your plant phenotyping journey, starting with data acquisition, then data processing and data analytics to serve your applications such as best cultivar selection, yield prediction, ideotype qualification, trial quality assessment, cultivar risk assessment, and so on.
Thus we accompany you with your data acquisition by providing you with a drone acquisition protocol document that lists all the flight parameters and guidelines your crew should follow to ensure data acquired is high quality and consistent from one pilot to the other. In addition, we are delighted to announce the launch of the Hiphen Academy this fall. The Hiphen Academy is the first e-learning platform of its kind, fully dedicated to crop researchers focused on drone plant phenotyping projects. This online resource contains 6 courses and 45 lessons dedicated to drone plant phenotyping, representing 8+ hours of training, all based on real-life experience. Here is a quick video to introduce you to the Hiphen Academy.
👇 Watch the replay of our Webinar about the Hiphen Academy 👇