UK defence and security company Qinetiq, working in partnership with Aberystwyth University's biosciences centre, has successfully completed the UK's first flight of an autonomous unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) for agricultural monitoring.
The flight, part of the so-called U-MAP (UAVs for Managing Agricultural Practice) programme - a project supported by the Welsh Assembly - 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 UAV platform and carried out a total of more than 15 flights.
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.
'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,' said Qinetiq's Clive Richardson.