QinetiQ, working in partnership with Aberystwyth University's new biosciences centre IBERS, has successfully completed the UK's first flight of an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for agricultural monitoring.
The flight was the culmination of phase one of the pioneering U-MAP programme, a project supported by the Welsh Assembly Government. U-MAP (UAVs for Managing Agricultural Practice) has demonstrated the feasibility of using a UAV to deliver high resolution images to the agricultural, forestry and environmental monitoring sectors.
Farmers and foresters increasingly need accurate and timely information on the state of the land they occupy. For example by mapping the fertiliser requirements of arable crops, farmers can ensure they only apply the precise amount of fertiliser required, saving them money and preventing the pollution that occurs when nitrate fertilisers are over-applied.
The QinetiQ team acted as systems integrator for the specially adapted UAV platform and flew a total of more than 15 flights during the "work-up" phase and in support of data gathering. The UAV captured specialised video images that were used to create NDVI (normalised difference vegetation index) maps – sensitive indicators of the amount of vegetation present that can be used to determine fertiliser requirements.
"The UMAP project brings together emerging UAV technology with the growing need for farmers to fully understand the land they have under cultivation," commented Clive Richardson, Chief Operating Officer for QinetiQ's EMEA business. "With these recent flights we have successfully shown that UAVs are an affordable and flexible alternative to manned aircraft and satellites for the remote sensing of agricultural land."