Google the phrase "drones transform agriculture" and you'll find roughly 500,000 hits proclaiming an upcoming revolution in agriculture, the agricultural sciences, and much of field biology. However, one issue is often left unaddressed in these optimistic pronouncements. Exactly how is this revolution going to occur? While flying platforms for gathering data have many immediate applications, the vast majority of these systems focus on gathering huge quantities of aerial imagery that can easily overwhelm researchers and require intensive manual analysis.
This talk examines the design and use of autonomous hexacopters for high-throughput phenotyping. I present new methods for creating extremely detailed geographical models that identify and locate all plants within a field and can track their individual growth over a season with mm2 resolution. Results from preliminary studies conducted at the West Madison Agricultural Research Station are used to illustrate our research goals, including predicting overall crop yields early in the growing season. This work reveals new challenges that require intense collaboration across a broad range of disciplines, making this area intensely exciting and demonstrating one view of how combining computer science, statistics, and agriculture is likely to have major scientific and economic promise for Wisconsin and beyond.