Since 2014, IALR scientists have used two SMART tables for precision agriculture research. The SMART tables, which are precision imaging platforms to record and track plant growth, provide insight into plant population responses to environmental stimuli without harm to the plant and under controlled conditions. The tables use precision robotics and technology to record and analyze plant growth and movement in a variety of conditions for up to 15,000 plants at a time. The tables are thought to be the only plant imaging devices like them in the U.S. The SMART tables are essential in conducting research in a lab setting.
IALR’s SMART table project continues to garner interest from industry and academia. A new mountable camera head for testing soil characteristics was recently installed on the innovative table. Through a university collaboration, a group of five senior Virginia Tech mechanical engineers recently completed the camera head as their senior design project. Additionally, four STEM interns and an Engineering Fellow worked to move the tables to a new lab, designed new lighting to create a more functional and automated system, re-coded the in-house control system to run better, and integrated the new robotic head.
IALR launched a precision agriculture program in 2017 to assist local farmers with field inspections. Scientists use the drones like the AgBOT, a fully autonomous drone designed for precision agricultural applications with thermal and multispectral cameras, to analyze data from crops. The AgBOT can cover several acres of crops in minutes and provides data to growers regarding potential soil variations, irrigation problems and disease infestations. This data helps growers reduce overwatering and the overuse of fertilizers and pesticides by only applying what is needed, when it is needed.
The data collected from each mission will be used immediately to determine the most productive and healthiest areas of each field. These areas will be investigated and compared to nonproductive areas through a variety of tests. The data will be analyzed by IALR scientists and, together with each grower, a site specific action plan will be developed for each farm or vineyard for the next growing season. Data will continue to be collected during year two of the project to determine the effectiveness of the treatments and compare data from the first year of the project.
The service is available to farmers of strawberries, vegetables, grapes, grains, tobacco and legumes throughout IALR’s footprint. The project aims to increase growers’ profits and production through effective and efficient utilization of resources and to educate current and potential growers about current technologies to increase sustainable agribusinesses. The drone project is funded by the Virginia Tobacco Commission.