Handheld agtech sensor measures plant health, collects crop data

November 01, 2018 // By Rich Pell
Researchers at Purdue University (West Lafayette, IN) have built a handheld sensor that offers plant scientists and farmers a more precise way of measuring the health of crops while also gathering up-to-the-minute crop data.

Designed to help farmers detect changes in plant health in the field hours to days before they are visible to the naked eye, the hyperspectral-imaging device works by scanning a plant for physiological features - such as moisture, nutrient, and chlorophyll levels - as well as different chemical spraying effects and disease symptoms. It also will allow farmers to make necessary changes to grow more food using fewer resources, such as by reducing fertilizer and water use, say the researchers.

"My vision is this sensor will allow household farmers walking through a field to use a handheld device and a smartphone to get the same information available from very expensive phenotyping systems constructed by big companies and big universities in recent years," says Jian Jin, an assistant professor in Purdue's Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering. "We have 600 million farmers worldwide, and very few of them are benefiting from high-end plant sensor technologies. Now, with this handheld device, most farmers can benefit."

Designed to be light and easy to carry, the handheld sensor can scan a plant in less than five seconds and can detect hundreds of bands of color in each pixel compared with the three bands of color detected by traditional cameras. One version of the device also shoots a burst of fluorescent light off the plant. Both are used to measure stress and nutrition levels of the plant.

The device integrates an advanced image processing algorithm and plant features prediction models developed by Purdue scientists using the University's database containing years of plant research assays in both greenhouse and field. The models are also constantly improved and updated.

Plant phenotyping - a quantitative description of a plant's anatomical, ontogenetical, physiological and biochemical properties - has seen rapid development in recent years, say the researchers, as imaging technology is increasingly being used to improve efficiency based on current conditions instead of farmers relying on regional conditions and


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