FLYING HIGH: Ken Laws demonstrating the applications of drones for monitoring grains production at the School Plant Science Competition.
FLYING HIGH: Ken Laws demonstrating the applications of drones for monitoring grains production at the School Plant Science Competition. Sophie Lester

Warwick researchers show tech potential flies high

DRONES have had success in pest animal control on the Southern Downs, but a researcher at the Hermitage Research Station is showing how the technology can be used to advance grains research.

Hermitage technical officer Ken Laws has been using drone-mounted cameras to help map grain crops at the facility to monitor their growth, and was showing off his toys at the School Plants Science Competition.

"Taking all the data we would need from the sorghum trials by hand is too time consuming and so we're using the drones to help us collect some of that data,” Mr Laws said.

"We set the drones up on autopilot with a GPS that is accurate to within 7mm - the majority of phone GPS are accurate to five metres.

"The drone takes a multitude of photos which we then compile into an authomosaic, which is essentially a model of the paddock made from thousands of photos.”

Mr Laws said he had worked on projects in sorghum trials and nursery work but always had an interest in photography.

He took a drone course to capitalise on the potential of the technology when asked by his colleagues. "Depending on the camera we can map things like height, water and even sugar levels,” Mr Laws said.

"An infrared camera for example will let us pull out the green pigments which gives us chlorophyll levels, or thermal imaging can show us how hot the plants are, because a plant that cools is actively losing water which isn't desirable for us.

"We're only just scratching the surface with what we can do with drones here - the biggest limitations right now are battery life and processing power to actually collate all the images into data maps.”



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