Inside Unmanned Systems provides actionable business intelligence to decision-makers and influencers operating within the global UAS community. Features include analysis of key technologies, policy/regulatory developments and new product design.
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8 unmanned systems inside February/March 2017 AIR AGRICULTURE France's pioneering UAS manufacturer Delair-Tech is pushing the boundaries of high-tech agriculture, working with seed producer Maisadour Semences to develop drone-based applications for accurately counting individual sunfl ower plants across vast cultivated fi elds. by Peter Gutierrez S unf lowers are strange and beautiful to look at, but they are also a major cash crop supplying 25 per- cent of the seed market in Europe and 50 percent of its food oil market. With so much to play for, France's Maisadour Semenc- es, a leading European producer of maize and oil seeds, has been eager to explore new crop management tech- nologies to improve sunf lower cultivation—including the use of drones. "We met with Maisadour Semences through their innova- tion structure," said Lenaic Grignard, Delair-Tech's agricul- ture product manager, "and we decided to set up a project on precision ag valuing." There was an opportunity, she said, to look at two key as- pects of seed breeding and production—plant counting and yield forecasting—using unmanned aircraft system (UAS). Delair-Tech and Maisadour worked together to fly a num- ber of sunflower plant counting missions over experimenta- tion fields in 2015 and 2016 in the south of France. "These f ields are split into micro-plots, with 4,000 micro-plots in a field with an area of around 10 hectares (about 25 acres)" Delair-Tech Software Engineer Mat- thias Meulien explained. "We performed a f irst f light and then built an orthorectified raster image from the individual images and computed maps of vegetation indices." Finally, he said, using those maps, the Delair- Tech algorithm was able to identify, for each micro-plot, rows, plants and gaps. "All the data were merged and statistics computed so that our customer could easily identify micro-plots with unexpected numbers of plants or gaps," Meulien said. For Maisadour, sunf lower cultivation begins with a high- precision seeder, so it starts with reliable information on the maximum possible number of plants per micro-plot and of the expected distance between two plants in a row. Thus, counting the number of real plants in a field means in effect counting the ones that are missing, counting the too-wide gaps between plants. THE PROMISING BUSINESS