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Cal Poly students employ drone to monitor changes to strawberry crop throughout study

Posted at 12:24 PM, Dec 16, 2018
and last updated 2018-12-16 15:48:06-05

A drone is helping researchers at Cal Poly monitor a field of strawberries that have been infected with a disease as part of a study into how each variety of berry responds.

“We test different varieties and apply the same disease to all varieties and see which plants are affected by the disease most and which are not,” Bo Liu, a Cal Poly assistant professor of bioresource and agricultural engineering, said.

The drone captures images of the strawberries, giving researchers a critical birdseye view of the crop.

The study is just one way that technology like drones is now playing a key role in farming.

“It’s labor intensive if you do this experiment and document everything, to have to go through the entire field, look at each plant and document growth info,” Liu said. “But if you use drones, it just takes several minutes to take the pics.”

Liu is part of a team of students capturing images of the crop with a drone every two weeks.

“I already have pre-planned routes on the field,” Liu said. “From there, I’ll upload that route to the phone and it will automatically take off and start that process. It will start taking pics every couple seconds and that, paired with the camera on the drone completes all the data we need to take.”

Hundreds of infrared photos are snapped in minutes as the drone makes the rounds from above.

The high-resolution images allow researches to zoom in for different perspectives, something that would take hours if not days to collect on foot.

“It can tell us new info we never knew before and it kind of opens the door for farmers,” Liu said.

“UAVS and multi-rotors and RC airplanes have kind of existed as a hobby before this, but now we’re in the age of tech where it’s really easy to fly,” Neil Wolfe, aerospace engineering graduate student at Cal Poly, said. “In the hands of a respectful and responsible pilot, with the correct sensors, these can be really useful in different applications for different commercial businesses.”