Sensors for robotic aircraft will be the big story in 2016 #colbyagtech Parrot Sequoia Zenmuse XT

Over the past few years the big talk in agriculture has been unmanned aerial systems, no question about that.   But yet to really be proven is just how they will effect agricultural.   As the Federal Aviation Administration closes in on the commercial regulations, fact still remains how these new tools will effect agriculture past being a great scouting tool and providing some great aerial images very quickly at a lower cost than conventional options.    

The term “remote sensing” was phrased in the United States in the 1950’s by the Office of Naval Research by Ms Evelyn Pruitt.  Remote sensing is now commonly used to describe the science and art of identifying, observing, and measuring an object without coming into direct contact with it.  It’s all about detection and measurement of reflected or emitted wavelengths.

Source: Nasa, Remote Sensing by Steve Graham, 1999.

Cameras over the years have been mounted on everything you can imagine and will continue to be.  It all began with balloons, then aircraft and satellites, and now finally unmanned aerial systems.   It’s not to anyone surprise that new sensors are arriving now for unmanned aerial systems to be used specifically in agriculture.  (Yippie)

Integrated Thermal Sensors

In December 2015 DJI announced a collaboration with Flir Systems, together they introduced the NEW Zenmuse XT.   The first thermal camera solution integrated with a gimbal.  It uses a similar gimbal mount to similar to other camera solutions. This is designed to be used with the very popular DJI Inspire platform.  We have been flying this since it's release in Decemeber of 2015 with great success.  Best feature is that new camera is completley controlled through the DJI GO app, which provides a real-time, low latency view of what the camera sees and instant access to functions like:

·      Spot metering, temperature measurement at the mid-point.

·      Digital zoom

·      Single or interval shooting modes

·      Photo, video preview and download

·      Take Photos while recording video

·      Various cameras, all controllable from app

DJI GO App view of the Zenmuse XT Thermal Camera. 

DJI GO App view of the Zenmuse XT Thermal Camera. 

Pricing has not been released yet, but will be available in Spring of 2016. 

Have you seen this new thermal sensor for your smart phone?  Called a Flir One. 

Have you seen this new thermal sensor for your smart phone?  Called a Flir One. 

Advanced Imagery

Farmers using advanced imagery to help locate and identify problem areas.  Currently farmers have been using primarily satellites and aircraft.  But as we know the use of robotic aircraft offers some new of benefits and is going to change this landscape.  The remote sensing industry has been rapidly trying to create new sensors that would work specifically for these new robotic aircraft.  

Over the past 3 seasons we used many different single image converted cameras in various ships, with varying success. It’s important to understand that a professional multispectral camera is considerably different than single imager cameras.   These cameras use a blocking filter combined with the stock capture information in 3 wavelengths of light. Problem is the the they are a “wideband” and these are not nearly as accurate as a professional system.   Other challenges came from the integration of the necessary options to get the system to work property within the limited space of an unmanned aerial system.  Other issue we learned is the proper calibration is always a challenge due to cloud cover, time of day, season, humidity, and dozens of other factors.    Listening to educators talk about what they have learned over the past 20-30 yrs it seemed very obvious to me that a converted is ok to use, but not good enough.

A professional camera multispectral camera systems provide amazing imagery beyond the visible spectrum but have yet to be practically priced agriculture.   It’s easy to spend well over $15,000 + and that is just not practical in my opinion.   Last year MicaSense introduced the RedEdge™ camera and it was a great 1st step. Even priced at $6000. it was nearly 60% less than others with similar performance.    

Fast forward to February 2016….   #GameChanger Sensor Released? 

Here comes the next big step, this is the one that could really leave a mark, called Parrot Sequoia™.  This new camera uses very narrow filters just like the RedEdge™ camera.   It provides the characteristics which enable very accurate measurements of reflectance that converted cameras simply cannot match.  There’s lots to share about this new camera, so let’s talk about it.

·      Self-calibrated using the Sunshine sensor (BIG DEAL)

·      RGB camera 16 Mpx for scouting

·      High photo rate 1 picture per second

·      Independent from the drone

·      Standard protocol (PTP) for communication

·      USB powered

·      Compact size (same as GoPro)

·      Stand alone unit, able to work in various platforms.

·      Access data via WiFi & USB


Really looking forward to getting this new sensor in the field asap.  It will be available in March 2016 at retail price of $3500.   This includes everything you need to get going.  Wow what a great package for a multispectral sensor that captures both visible and invisible images, with calibrated data.   The Parrot Sequoia™ captures calibrated wavelength, green, red, red-edge and near infrared to highlight the health of plants.    

 Learn more at

Over the past few years we’ve shown that robotic aerial can provide some value as a scouting tool alone, but adding these new sensors is the honestly first step to a tangible benefit.  

We'll cover the use of software soon as those tools are really becoming the next key to using these sensors.    In 2015 we had great experience using DroneDeploy and they have some products some soon also.  

Stay tuned for more information.