Capturing multispectral data using drones

Derive precise vegetative health measures from high-resolution spectral imagery

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Nearly every drone comes standard with a visual (RGB) sensor. But to get better plant health data, deploy a multispectral sensor on your drone.

Multispectral sensors are the workhorses of drone-based agricultural mapping and analytics. Their ability to capture data at exceptional spatial resolution—as well as determine reflectance in near-infrared—makes them a versatile and effective sensor, necessary to farmers, agronomists, and researchers alike.

Collecting multispectral data is a critical step in performing more effective crop health analysis. The multiple bands of light enable users of PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture, our mapping and analytics tools built for farming, to produce powerful statistics on plant vigor, leaf area, and canopy cover. Without multispectral data, it can be difficult, if not impossible, to catch early indicators of disease, pests, and weeds and derive a true measure of the vegetative biomass of densely planted crops.

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About Multispectral Data

A standard visual sensor collects red, green and blue wavelengths of light. Multispectral sensors collect these visible wavelengths as well as wavelengths that fall outside the visible spectrum, including near-infrared radiation (NIR), short-wave infrared radiation (SWIR) and others.

Comprising of three-to-five spectral bands, multispectral sensors fall into two common categories: modified and multiband.


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Modified Multispectral Sensors

Modified sensors are created by placing a filter on a standard visual sensor, which collects three bands of light at once through the same lens. Various filters allow for the capture of different combinations of spectral bands. The most common formats sacrifice one of the visual bands to record near-infrared information (NIR). For example, an R-G-NIR filter sacrifices blue for near-infrared energy (~700 - 800 nm).

Multiband Multispectral Sensors

A multiband multispectral sensor simultaneously collects several individual bands instead of a single combination of three bands, as with standard or modified visual sensors. Where you might need to fly multiple drone flights with various modified sensors to capture all the multispectral data you need, you can collect everything in a single drone flight using a multiband sensor.

 

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Processing Multispectral Sensor Data

By uploading multispectral sensor data into PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture, our mapping and data analytics platform, you can transform the various bands of multispectral data into indices that indicate vegetation health and stress. Indices require varying amounts of spectral data. 

For example, a basic Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) can be applied to basic red-green-blue (RGB) visual imagery captured by a regular camera. However, NDVI has its limitations. To gain a more accurate measure of crop health, you can deploy a multiband multispectral sensor, that includes near-infrared and infrared wavelengths of light, enabling you to run a Normalized Difference Red Edge (NDRE) vegetation index. This is better for mid- and late-season crops, which have greater accumulated levels of chlorophyll and multiple layers of vegetation.

 

Choosing a Multispectral Sensor

So, choosing a multispectral sensor to deploy on your drone often comes down do your desired analysis and the vegetation index it dictates is best suited to the use. In some cases, a simple visual sensor and NDVI output will do. But, when greater clarity is required, such as in the case of mid- and late-season crops or areas of interest that variable soil, a more sophisticated vegetation index will call for you to deploy a multiband multispectral sensor on your drone.

Talk to our team about your goals to learn if drone-based multispectral sensing is right for your farming operation.

 

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Our Multispectral Sensor Portfolio

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MicaSense Altum

The MicaSense Altum multispectral sensor features five high-resolution narrow bands, in combination with a radiometric thermal camera. It enables you to capture advanced thermal, multispectral, and high-resolution imagery in a single flight, making your data collection more efficient and your data analysis more versatile.

  • 5.2 cm GSD and detailed Digital Surface Models from as high as 400 ft.
  • Compatible with a wide variety of drones, featuring turnkey integration with the DJI M200
  • DLS 2 enables precise irradiance and sun angle measurements for more accurate and reliable data, reducing post-processing time
  • Integrated GPS, streamlining setup with a wide variety of drones
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MicaSense RedEdge-MX

MicaSense’s RedEdge-MX is a flexible multispectral sensor designed specifically for agriculture. The multi-band sensor collects data from multiple band outputs in a single flight, powering basic crop health indices and advanced analytics. With no moving parts and a compact form factor, the MicaSense RedEdge-MX can be deployed for multiple seasons on a wide range of drones.

  • DLS 2 enables precise irradiance and sun angle measurements for more accurate and reliable data, reducing post-processing time
  • Captures five narrow spectral bands
  • Visual and multispectral data can be captured in a single flight
  • Compatible with a wide range of drones
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Parrot Sequoia+

The Parrot Sequoia+ multispectral unit features two sensors, multispectral and sunshine, enabling users to precisely analyze the vitality of crops by evaluating the amount of light they absorb and reflect. The Sequoia+’s multiple sensors eliminate the need for a radiometric calibration target. 

  • 4 spectral sensors (green, red, red edge, and near-infrared)
  • Integrated GPS, IMU, and magnetometer
  • 1280x960 pixel cameras 

Results

Accelerating agriculture research

An agribusiness research company tested drones on the crops it grew at its research stations. Instead of surveying plots manually it deployed drones. The results:

2.5X more efficient than sampling
25% more accurate than hand counts
Surveyed full plots instead of sampling 10% to 40% of the field

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BASF quantified turf improvements

By quantifiably measuring sprig growth and green quality, BASF Turf and Landscape proved a 24 percent increase in Green Level Index for sprigs treated with Lexicon®. Now, according to Gary Myers, CGCS, BASF Pinehurst Project Lead, BASF is able to “use the data as the foundation of [their] presentations to prospective customers and golf course superintendents.” 

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Why PrecisionHawk?

We’ve built our offerings to scale. From investing in geospatial science expertise to understanding the regulatory environment, we’re able to support a one-time flight or a fully integrated enterprise aerial intelligence program.

 

Sensors built to capture agricultural data

Paired with PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture, you get the power to integrate artificial intelligence technology into your multispectral sensing.

10 years of multispectral sensing

We first started conducting multispectral sensing over vineyards. Since then, we’ve expanded how we apply multispectral sensing to a variety of use cases.

Used by leading agrochemical and seed companies

We aid the world’s leading agronomic enterprises in applying multispectral sensing to their product development research.

Multispectral sensing with top research institutions

We’ve helped the USDA, North Carolina State University, and many other organizations apply multispectral sensing to their agronomic activities.

Compatible multispectral and hyperspectral sensors

We source our multispectral sensors from technology manufacturers MicaSense, Headwall, and DJI, ensuring they’re fully compatible with our mapping and analytics platform, PrecisionAnalytics Agriculture.

Ag tech evaluated by ag pros

Our industry-leading team of Ph.D. and remote sensing-accredited geospatial technologists have selected our sensor portfolio based on cutting-edge agronomic principles.

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Redefine the limits of yield intensification, using drone-based data collection and analytics.

 
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