Using Multispectral Cameras With Small UAV’s For Precision Agriculture

New at Marcus UAV is the availability of multispectral camera system payloads. After securing a deal with the small multispectral camera systems manufacturer Tetracam, Marcus UAV is now an official distributor of Tetracam products and technology.


Application Summary

Multispectral imaging of vegetation is quite useful in the identification of crop stress indicators or other malfeasances, namely a shortage or abundance of nutrients or water. Pests or other plant stressors such as microbes or spores also leave their spectral mark on a plant, and can be identified from hundreds of feet in the air. The days of traditional airborne or satellite application of infrared imagery in agriculture are numbered as cheaper/more accurate UAV solutions now exist.


Our Work

Marcus UAV is now actively prototyping a custom payload manifold for the housing of a Tetracam ADC Lite camera system. With the camera now securely in possession by the company, final testing is underway as our dummy spectral camera payload is swapped out for the real thing. Marcus UAV’s engineers can now run the final airframe balance checks and flight time endurance tests.

Corey, our sales manager and quality control engineer, will be the first to run a set of testing samples on crop samples native to the Washington state area. Using infrared camera images collected at specified intervals, overlapped and aligned, Normalized Difference Vegetation Indies will be derived and displayed on this same blog for precision agricultural specialists to review and comment on.


Why Spectral Analysis Is Important

This NDVI calculation is valuable to ag scientists due to the unique spectral signature healthy plants radiate. Green healthy plant mass strongly absorbs light rays in their PAR light range, namely .4-.7 nanometers, whereas strongly reflect infrared light in the .7-1.1 nanometer spectral wavelength range. By measuring the ratio of light reflected by the plant in these two spectral ranges, we can determine how healthy a resulting set of plants are.

Using NDVI maps derived through the use of multispectral cameras such as the Tetracam ACD lite and associated spectral filtering software, (pixel wrench) it is possible to generate strong conclusions regarding the status of an active crop via it’s spectral reflectivity. By monitoring these differences in the visual and infrared range, critical decisions can be made before what is possible through the use of unaided eyes alone.

When soil testing and field scouting is coupled with highly accurate spectral signature data, crop prescriptions can be generated on the fly as needed. By hyper tuning the volume of elemental additives a crop receives, infrared imagery offers the information necessary to peak crop yield and save money resultantly. Furthermore, infestations and disease outbreak are quarantined and mitigated before they affect other healthy plant material through periodically scheduled spectral scans.


Why UAV’s Are The Future Of Spectral Analysis of Crops

Old style spectral signal collection methods are weak for numerous reasons, and extend past their exorbitant pricing point. Clouds can wedge between the crop subjects and ionospheric cameras from which multispectral images are sourced, and plane fuel is expensive. Both multi-spectral camera carriers (ie. satellite and manned aircraft) offer up data that is usually outdated, and lacking in precise spatial resolution. UAV technology truly offers the best solution for aerial collection of spectral data for these reasons.

Marcus UAV will make the old style collection of spectral data from higher in the sky obsolete. Our sub 15K spectral surveillance package will put this ultra-powerful technology in farmers’ hands across the world.


Marcus UAV and the SIERRA Project Team Up to Fight Forest Fires

Marcus UAV has been working in partnership with the University of Cincinnati Aerospace Labs to form a project called the SIERRA Project (Surveillance for Intelligent Emergency Response Robotic Aircraft). In December Lead Engineer of Marcus UAV traveled to do a demonstration for the West Virginia forestry department. The forestry department is among one of the first departments in the national to begin planning integration of Marcus UAV’s Zephyr systems.

The motivation behind this partnership? In the past decade, wild land fires, either natural or man-made, have caused a growing amount of devastation. This effort concerns the application of UAV technology to reduce the level of damage associated with wild land fires. The plane has a GPS system, cameras and the ability to locate and analyze a fire, information that is relayed immediately, without a pilot. “All that without the risk of having dirty dangerous operations for our pilot,” said University of Cincinnati student Rob Charvat. “For that price though, Charvat said you’re getting a bargain. To get a helicopter to do this, it may take a few hours, and $10,000-$20,000. For what it would cost me for a days worth of helicopter support, I can buy something that lasts years,” Charvat.

As well as the demonstration for the West Virginia Forestry Department the Discovery Channel joined up to film the demonstration. The video shows everything from set up, launch, flying control, data input and the landing of Marcus UAV’s Zephyr the was sold and purchased by the University of Cincinnati. The episode can be seen here at West Virginia Demo via