How Agriculture Met Virtual Reality - A Love Story

Okay, lame title I admit - but here you are, and now I'm going to tell you how we were the first company on the planet to do what we do.  We are using UAV (drones) equipped with 360 degree video camera's to record above, around, and INSIDE the crop.

Did he just say "inside the crop?"

Yes.  I said inside the crop! 

Water stress can be seen here as it has a detrimental effect on the growth of this Winter Wheat field in Southern Manitoba.  You can see the red trenches in the field where standing water has completely killed off any living plants.

Water stress can be seen here as it has a detrimental effect on the growth of this Winter Wheat field in Southern Manitoba.  You can see the red trenches in the field where standing water has completely killed off any living plants.

First we fly over the field using a fixed-wing UAV, such as the senseFly eBee, equipped with a multispectral sensor, such as the MicaSense Parrot Sequoia, or the Sentera Quad, Dual, or Single NIR sensor.  We then process the imagery we collect via Pix4D into an NDVI (Normalized Difference Vegetation Index) plant health analysis map.  The NDVI map shows us where the crop is healthy, and where it isn't growing very well due to one or more variables (such as heat stress, water stress, insect/fungus/weed stress, etc.).  

Once we have an idea of where the "problem areas" are within the crop, we will use a multirotor drone equipped with a 360 degree camera to fly out to those areas of stress to get a closer look.

How do you fly into the crop to see whats going on?

We don't actually lower the drone into the crop - our 360 degree camera is lowered into the field, and we can then record what is going on below the canopy!  The 360 degree video records in 4K - and we can even take high-resolution still photos of the inside of the crop.  This can be done with any plant - though the biggest benefit comes from the crops that are extremely difficult to actually walk or drive through - hemp, corn, and canola are 3 examples where 360 degree virtual reality crop tours are highly beneficial.

Need to see for yourself?  Check out the video below - Hemp Field 360 Degree Virtual Reality Tour - Root Level / Below Canopy Video; mind you, if you are viewing on a smartphone you will need the Vimeo app to watch it.  If you are watching on a computer, you can click and drag the video to "look around" in every direction (except up) - the one thing the camera cannot see is the camera itself.

The BEST way to view this video however, is to use a Virtual Reality headset.  It may surprise you that VR headsets can be easily bought from places like Best Buy or Staples for under $50, and work well with many smart phone brands.  Load it up on the vimeo app on your smartphone, press the little "headset" button that looks like a pair of 3D goggles, load the phone into your headset, and prepare to be taken for a trip inside the crop.  I'm talking right down to the roots!  Check it out, and let us know what you think!

This hemp field was flown in southern Manitoba in August of 2017.  Don't be fooled by its appearance - it is hemp, not marijuana.  Hemp is becoming a huge crop these days as it has so many uses!