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Precision agriculture

Precision agriculture and 3D imaging for agriculture

Agriculture is being challenged to feed a growing population with shifting diets, whilst reducing the environmental impact. NPL is involved in agri-tech research, looking for new opportunities for technology and products that will assist in the feeding of a projected 10 billion global inhabitants by 2050. We have expert knowledge on sensing and imaging technology which can be applied to horticultural, agricultural, livestock and food processing environments.

Capturing detailed data on field grown crops presents a huge measurement challenge, but is critical for a sustainable global food supply.  Microwaving imaging can reveal internal structure of plants, reflecting the amount of water, ripeness or disease.

Examples of the work we have done include:

  • Bench top and in-line system for identifying black heart in potatoes using contrast microwave imaging
  • Hand-held monitors developed to address non-contact sugar measurements for sugarcane
  • Body scanning of pigs and cattle to assess thickness of fat
  • Development of automated strawberry harvesting technology

Accurate and repeatable measurement is key to developing the next generation of wheat and other crop varieties, through correct trait analysis and cross-breeding. NPL’s innovative use of commercially available vision systems, such as time of flight and 3D cameras, is helping to deliver a field-deployable 3D imaging demonstrator capable of covering 2.5 hectares/hour with centimetre positioning accuracy.

Our current research includes:

  • the Autopic project built a robot that uses multiple wavelengths of electromagnetic radiation to measure the water content of strawberries to identify the sweetest, ripest fruit.
  • developing a 3D camera mounted on the rear of a tractor creating a live 3D image which can be combined with other technologies to create a computer visualisation of crops within a field.

NPL has the expertise to overcome the imaging challenges for agri-technology:

  • Reducing the number of scans and sensors
  • Optimising the speed of data capture
  • Data storage and communication
  • Compensating for vehicle/ground vibrations or weather effects

Read an overview of NPL's precision agriculture work in a guest feature article in the IET's Electronics Letters.

Read an overview of NPL's 3D imaging rig in Imaging and Machine Vision Europe.


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