Amidst all of the talk about drones and satellites, one company is using airplanes to take aerial pictures of crops. The company, called Airscout based in Indiana, is using both thermal and digital cameras, mounted at the bottom of a single-engine plane, to detect crop stress.
The cameras measure the temperature of the crop, which company founder Brian Sutton says is more precise, and a better indicator of stress, than the more common normalized difference vegetation index (NDVI) images taken today.
“Thermal is not NDVI, which is what the drone and satellite imagery companies are selling,” Sutton says. “NDVI is based on reflected light and has nothing to do with temperature. Our thermal camera completely disregards color and shows actual emitted energy from plants. Because it shows the emitted energy, we can see disease or stress in a plant long before it begins to change color.”
Sutton, an Indiana farmer and licensed pilot, experimented with several NDVI camera technologies before using thermal imaging. He says while NDVI did a good job of amplifying shades of green, the cameras revealed little more than what he could see out the airplane window. “The level of detail and patterns the thermal imaging reveals are well beyond what can be detected with the naked eye,” he says.
Sutton says its thermal image technology is unique. “No one, beyond universities and NASA, is using the same camera and process for aerial field scouting today,” he says. “The processes we use are patent pending.”
The following slides will show how thermal technology works.