Winemaking and the emergency services are just two of the many sectors beginning to benefit from the combination of optics and UAVs.
The word itself might conjure up images of remote military operations and modern warfare, but drones – more formally referred to as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) – are capable of many civilian applications.
And they are increasingly being deployed in combination with state-of-the-art photonics technology for a variety of innovative agricultural uses.
For example, the US company Precision Hawk has seen its UAV technology employed in a variety of plant research, crop-protection and crop-production applications – initially in the wine industry, where it was modified to resemble a hawk to scare away pest birds while collecting sensing data useful to vineyard owners. Now it is finding use in a variety of other sectors, including forestry, land-surveying, insurance, and the energy industry.
The company’s latest model is the Lancaster Mark III, a small, fixed-wing autonomous UAV weighing just 1.3 kg that is capable of collecting extremely high-resolution remote-sensing data.
Less than one meter from nose to tail, and running on completely silent brushless electric motors, the aircraft automatically computes its own flight paths, survey parameters and take-off and landing paths, as well as other vital information.
“Once the survey is complete, the on-board computers will automatically connect to Wi-Fi networks and transfer all remote-sensing data, flight information and diagnostics to remote servers,” says Ernest Earon, president and CEO at PrecisionHawk.
“Users are never required to manually generate or plot mission paths or build flight-plans based on weather conditions. Instead, the aircraft will automatically adapt to its current conditions,” he adds.
Hyperspectral and IR
According to Earon, the hyperspectral, line-scanning and planar sensors carried on-board the Lancaster Mark III are widely used in plant-health measurement, water quality assessment, vegetation index calculation, full spectral-sensing, spectral index research and development, as well as mineral and surface composition surveys.
The sensors feature a micro-hyperspectral visible and near-infrared (VNIR) unit and a multi-channel image filter array. In addition, microbolometer thermal infrared (TIR) sensors are used to collect data in the long-wave infrared (LWIR) spectrum.
“Several variants of this sensor are available to provide varying resolutions and radiometric calibrations, and they are best utilized in heat-signature detection, livestock detection, surveillance and security, water temperature detection, and water source identification and emergency response,” says Earon.
“The Tau infrared camera core is a small, light, low-power, long-wave thermal camera core available in 320 pixel, 640 pixel, and low-rate (9 fps) versions.”