Photonics expert receives £174,000 grant to develop remote sensing technology for gathering real-time information on crop health

LiDAR technology mounted on drones can help growers gather real-time data on their crops

LiDAR technology mounted on drones can help growers gather real-time data on their crops

An Aston University photonics expert 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, an acronym for 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 on board 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.

Dr 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 aims 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.

Dr 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.”

Dr Sergeyev added: “My project’s motivation is driven by the global and UK agenda on increased food production, requiring novel remote sensing approaches towards ICT farming.

“As declared at the World Summit on Food Security in 2017, the growth in the world’s population requires increased and more efficient agricultural production.

“Remote sensing is an essential tool to systematically address the challenging task of enhanced agricultural efficiency by providing real-time information about crop traits for yield estimation.”