Household name eyes ag imaging

Sony’s system uses a drone-mounted multispectral camera with two sensors to help producers create field maps

ST. LOUIS, Mo. — Sony is bringing its digital camera and image processing expertise to the agriculture imaging market.

The company’s scouting solution uses a drone-mounted multispectral camera with two sensors that capture 12 megapixel RGB, compressed RAW images and two megapixel, near infrared and red channels for NDVI maps. It also has a built-in sunlight sensor so that users do not have to worry about calibrating the camera’s white balance.

Yu Kitamura, who is in charge of Sony’s smart agriculture solutions, said the sunlight sensor boosts the camera’s ability to work in changing weather conditions with variable light temperatures.

GPS information is encoded as metadata on the images by a GNSS sensor in the camera. It keeps track of the latitude, longitude, altitude as well as the orientation and heading of the drone and camera.

However, Kitamura said it’s the quick image stitching and processing with Sony proprietary technology, which doesn’t require a connection to the internet, that makes the company’s system among the most usable on the market.

“Once you finished the flight you will import the data to the system (installed on a laptop) and analyze the flight results quickly, so that you can ensure your flight is good to analyze,” Kitamura said during the Info Ag precision agriculture conference in St. Louis, Missouri, last week.

“Sometimes with strong winds and gusts you will miss the images, so you like to ensure the image is good enough before stitching.”

The company’s image stitching technique requires only 20 percent image overlap, which enables the camera to capture up to 160 acres each flight.

Sony has developed the software over the past three years with help from farmers and agronomists, and Kitamura said their input caused the company to drastically change its software solution.

One of the biggest changes was to enable users to quickly import, process and analyze flight data on-site and without internet connectivity.

“In a couple of minutes you will have the NDVI image generated and also you have an RGB image. Both at the same time is processed, so you observe the NDVI and you can check which area you are interested in,” Kitamura said.

“If you are interested in a specific area, you can mark it and add some text components, and you can drop pins on your interest points.”

Having a split screen option in the software enables users to see variations in the NDVI image and quickly zoom into an area with the RGB image and see details to get a better understanding of the situation.

Users can define an area of interest on the program and then have it analyzed with NDVI stats, including a pie chart and breakout view that segments heat map colours.

“From an agronomist’s point of view, you want to assess the areas quickly in the field. Here you will see how many acres are damaged, what the NDVI value is,” Kitamura said.

“You can quickly communicate with your growers if the field is damaged by some pest.… If you need to apply the pesticide here, you can quickly calculate how much cost (of crop protection product) needs to be applied.”

He said users can then immediately send the report to their growers, including relevant images and analysis.

The camera costs US$3,500, while the software is priced at $999 per year when used on more than 1,000 acres and $1,999 per year when used on more than 15,000 acres.

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