UAVs Help Figure out Effects of Climate Change on Crops

Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) is using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) as part of a research project on the effects of climate change on food scarcity and distribution.

Specifically, Dr. Simone Silvestri, an assistant professor of computer science at Missouri S&T, is deploying the aircraft monitor how crops in Missouri fields respond to climate change and drought. The work is being funded through a National Science Foundation Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research for $71,055.

According to a news release from the university, Silvestri and his team are using UAVs to study a cornfield in Columbia, Mo., from first planting until harvest. (The plants do not contain genetically modified organisms, Missouri S&T notes.)

The university says project is helping map naturally occurring modifications of plants’ DNA to robust crops that weather dry conditions and ward off parasites.

In the study, he says, the researchers are proposing a framework to optimize the tradeoff between the monitoring accuracy provided by a UAV network and its cost. The goal is to achieve autonomy in flying a network of several UAVs while optimizing multiple performance metrics such as data accuracy and energy consumption.

The UAVs are equipped with several types of cameras, such as RGB (red, green and blue), hyperspectral and thermal – allowing the team to gather a variety of information on several crop features, such as plant growth, health and water stress.

The team is defining missions though a Web application: e.g., the field to be monitored and the altitude and frequency at which pictures should be taken.

According to the university, the framework provides efficient algorithms to distribute the monitoring missions to the UAVs and autonomously schedule their flight and data-collection operations. An automated weather monitoring station is also integrated with the framework to ensure that it is safe to fly.

“Our role is to improve the scalability of data acquisition,” Silvestri adds. “We need to have reliable data at a low cost.”


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