August 7, 2002 | By: Laura Skillman

A model airplane equipped with a digital camera may provide a less expensive alternative for farmers to receive infrared images of their crop fields.

It could be a good tool for farmers as well as professional crop consultants as they check fields for potential problems.

“We are using just off the shelf digital cameras and we have found that they are sensitive to near infrared light,” said Tim Stombaugh, an agriculture engineer with the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture. “So with the right filter combinations, we can actually get near infrared imagery like what they get with satellite imagery out of the digital camera.          

“What we are trying to do is get it into this light, low cost platform that can go out and do some pre-scouting on the field to get an aerial photograph and find trouble spots in the field so you know how to direct your scouting,” he said.

The size of an affected area can also be determined using the imagery. For example, if a weed problem is discovered through the aerial photograph, then the number of acres it encompasses can be determined and from that point the amount of chemical needed can be calculated.

The plane being used is a kit sailplane that has had an electric motor added to it and is battery operated with remote controls. The plane is lightweight enough to hand

launch. When it’s up in the air the motor can be shut off allowing for a nice, clear picture.

It is hooked to a wireless video so the operator can see what the camera sees to allow for the right positioning to take the image.

There is a tremendous amount of potential with remote sensing, Stombaugh said. The limitations are the cost of getting it. A drawback with satellite images is that, on a cloudy day, the images are not very good. The plane would allow for clearer images and be less costly.

“We are targeting about $1,000 to $2,000 for this platform,” he said


Tim Stombaugh, (859) 257-3000 ext. 214