Food comes from healthy plants, so monitoring crop health is critical. OSU ag engineering grad student, Chris Wiegman spoke to a webinar audience about the research he is currently engaged in, his path to this study, and the importance of collaboration with other experts. The webinar participants were greeted by Tom Fontana, Director of Research and Education at the Ohio Soybean Council (OSC). GrowNextGen and OSC sponsored this webinar for educators.

Images provide a measure of energy as an indication of crop health. This data is collected with drones, also known as unmanned aerial systems. The goal, Wiegman said, is to get actionable information quickly, through longer flight times and higher flight speeds. “Stinger” sensor probes are placed within the crop canopy, relaying information in real time through sensors.

Wiegman explained how artificial intelligence is programmed to process multiple images of plant leaves with various features, such as smoothness, lesions, texture spots, and uneven edges. The sensors relay information about the plants on the ground, allowing evaluation of stress to plants. Having sensors in the canopy lets you be as close to the plant as possible, mimicking an actual walkthrough assessment of the crop.

Wiegman received a BS in engineering with a minor in molecular genetics in 2016. He is currently in the third year of a PhD program in agricultural engineering, focusing on using drones to retrieve information. He was originally interested in the medical field, but found agriculture to be really interesting.

Today’s engineering is benefitted by technological developments that allow curious students to explore problems and solutions on their own. Modern capabilities are growing, allowing this kind of research. For example, the sensor casings are 3D printed, allowing a smaller investment. You can cheaply purchase computational power with systems on a chip such Raspberry Pi and Nvidia Jetson Nano. “It just takes a willingness to try it and dedicate some time to it,” Wiegman said.

Wiegman is working within the Ohio State University’s Department of Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering. He collaborates with plant experts, OSU extension specialists, computer science engineering experts. He said, “Today’s problems are complex, so we need to work together.”

He encouraged students to be open to opportunities and ready to seize them; to know and use modern technologies. While artificial intelligence has great potential, it cannot problem solve, so that skill will continue to be a valuable asset in the future.

You can watch this presentation on the GrowNextGen YouTube channel!