CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas – Taking center stage with their recently awarded paper, Islander researchers Dr. Tianxing Chu and Dr. Michael Starek are protecting crops through the research and testing of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) to detect lodging, the premature falling of crops due to strong wind events. Taking first place at the International Society for Optics and Photonics (SPIE)’s April 2017 Autonomous Air and Ground Sensing Systems for Agricultural Optimization and Phenotyping II Conference, the focus of their research could potentially improve the production of the U.S.’s most widely produced grain – corn. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the U.S. is a major player in the world corn trade market with approximately 10 and 20 percent of corn crops exported to other countries.
“The focus of this paper was inspired when communicating with our co-authors, Drs. Michael Brewer and Seth Murray, who are experts in crop science and plant genetics,” said Chu, Postdoctoral Research Associate at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi. “With lodging being one of the major destructive factors for crop quality and yield, they emphasized a strong need to develop an automated method to detect the lodging of crops on a large scale for assessment of yield and plant performance.”
The field data was collected during the 2016 growing season at Texas A&M AgriLife Research Center in Corpus Christi while different UAS platforms (drones) were flown over corn fields with flight frequency targeted weekly. The research proposal, which took a total of seven months to develop including time for analysis, was submitted to SPIE in December 2016. Their research focused on using UAS platforms to collect imagery over a corn field and then use that imagery to measure the three-dimensional plant structure through Photogrammetry software. This practice helps to observe and analyze the change in plant height due to lodging over time without manually scouting in the field.
Finalizing their analysis in April 2017, after careful development of algorithms and testing, Chu and Starek submitted their research paper along with more than 20 other entries in SPIE’s April 2017 international competition. The paper took first place receiving an award of $1,000 sponsored by the Monsanto Company.
“This is an exceptional honor to us. Being noticed and acknowledged by internationally renowned experts is exciting and fantastic,” said Starek, Assistant Professor of Geospatial Surveying in Engineering and Geospatial Computing Sciences at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi. “This award will unquestionably encourage us to further pursue our research into UAS-based remote sensing for agricultural monitoring.”
Looking to the future, both Chu and Starek plan to continue their work by exploring multispectral features of lodging plants, combined with height measures, to make the algorithms they developed adaptive to multiple types of crops. For more information on Chu and Starek’s research, click here, or to find out more about SPIE, visit http://spie.org/.