Aston University receives funding for crop remote sensing

May 15, 2024

A photonics expert with UK-based Aston University has received a Royal Society Industry Fellowship grant to help make crop monitoring easier and cheaper with remote sensing technology.

Dr. Sergey Sergeyev of Aston Institute of Photonic Technologies (AIPT) has received £174,000 to improve polarimetric LIDAR, a technology that uses light to remotely observe plants.

LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) involves light sent from a transmitter which is reflected from objects. Devices with this technology can be placed on drones and flown over crop fields to provide real-time information about crop health to help farmers forecast the success of their crops.

Polarimetric synthetic-aperture radars (SARs) and polarimetric LiDARs are the most advanced, cost-effective sensors for crop monitoring. They are often used onboard aircraft and satellites and have been in use for three decades. However, current polarimetric LIDAR systems have low spatial resolution, a slow measurement speed and use expensive components that limit their cost effectiveness.

Sergeyev will be working in collaboration with Salford-based digital and AI farming company Fotenix to meet farmers’ need for a cost-effective solution to check if their plants are adequately watered and disease-free. The team will aim to advance recently patented AIPT technology of the polarimetric LIDAR, making it affordable for farmers in the UK and worldwide.

The project, called POLIDAR, will run from 2024 to 2025.

Sergeyev said: “Aston University’s patented technique will be modified by using a laser emitting four time-delayed pulse trains with different states of polarisation. By comparing the input states of polarisation and states of polarisation of light reflected from plants, it will reveal information about the distance to plants and plants’ leaf texture, such as water stress and pathogen infection. Unlike state-of-the-art solutions we suggest an all-fibre design with a minimum number of bulk components that reduces the footprint, cost and weight.”

The announcement coincides with UNESCO Day of Light which marks the role light plays in science, culture and art, education and sustainable development. It is held on 16 May every year, the anniversary of the first successful operation of a laser.

Making light work
Experts at two Midland universities in the UK are starting a new project to develop a photonic “nose” to monitor crops for pest infestations and plant disease.

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