Over time experienced gardeners and crop growers can identify problems in their produce, whether this is a lack of water, scorching from the sun, or diseases and pests. Even something as subtle as a change in fruit colour can indicate a problem that could decimate swathes of crops, causing significant financial harm to the producer.
Currently these problems can only be detected by people with experience. Not only is gaining suitable experience difficult but using humans to monitor crops takes up huge amounts of resource. You either need to pay lots of people to cover large areas of ground quickly or hire fewer people but accept that a problem may not be caught quickly enough.
This project, in conjunction with local company Wilkin & Sons (producers of Tiptree jam), combines the Internet of Things and computer vision with expertise on plant disease. The project is enabled by both terrestrial and aerial monitoring based on sensors and on-site cameras as well as a drone equipped with a hyperspectral camera. A data fusion platform will be developed that will be fed with the collected data, and will compare it to information on known problems in order to detect the signs and symptoms of different plant diseases. This may include the soil and weather conditions (such as drought), the growth speed of fruit, the size or colour of fruit, the colour of stems and leaves or any unusual patterns that indicate a potential infection.
As soon as a potential problem is identified site staff will be notified, not only of the exact location of the problem, but also about the potential problem along with a recommendation for a corrective action. Utilising this technology, the farm field is checked continuously and in real-time without any effort from humans. This means that experienced staff can be deployed to other areas of the business, improving workforce efficiency.
By identifying a problem in its earliest stages, Wilkin & Sons can ensure that they treat the issue before it becomes severe. This may involve treating specific plants to stop the disease spreading and infesting more crops. This will save money and effort, and enhance the quality of the produce.
This project is run in partnership with Wilkin & Sons, funded by a Knowledge Transfer Partnership from InnovateUK.
Principal InvestigatorSchool of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex
Co-investigatorSchool of Computer Science and Electronic Engineering, University of Essex