Crop Surveying Using Aerial Robots



Surveying crop heights during a growing season provides important feedback on the crop health and its reaction to environmental stimuli, such as rain or fertilizer treatments.  Gathering this data at high spatiotemporal resolution poses significant challenges to both researchers conducting phenotyping trials, and commercial agriculture producers. Currently, crop height information is gathered via manual measurements with a tape measure, or mechanical methods such as a tractor driving through the field with an ultrasonic or mechanical height estimation tool. These measurement processes are time consuming, and frequently damage the crops and field. As such, even though crop height information can be extremely valuable throughout the growing season, it is typically only collected at the end of growing season.

Goals and Objectives


This project develops an aerial crop  surveying system that utilizes a 2D laser scanner to estimate the height of the crop from small UAVs. The limited payload capacities of small UAVs preclude the use of long range laser scanners. This in turn requires us to fly the UAV extremely close (< 1m) to the crops. Flying this close to the crops requires more precise localization of the vehicle than is possible with traditional GPS sensors. As a result, we use the laser scan data to not only analyze the crops, but also control the height of the vehicle and track individual rows within the field


This project was partially supported by the USDA 2013-67021-20947,  NSF CSR-1217400 and UNL (ORED-UNL and Life Sciences Grant). Several people at UNL are working on this project in the departments of Computer Science and Engineering, and Agronomy and Horticulture.


  • D. Anthony, and C. Detweiler. Towards GPS Free Localization in Row Crops. ICRA Workshop on Robotics in Agriculture, 2015.
  • C. Detweiler, J.-P. Ore, D. Anthony, S. Elbaum, A. Burgin, A. Lorenz. ENVIRONMENTAL REVIEWS AND CASE STUDIES: Bringing Unmanned Aerial Systems Closer to the Environment. Cambridge Journal of Environmental Practice, 17, pp 188-200, 2015.
  • D. Anthony, S. Elbaum, A. Lorenz, and C. Detweiler. On Crop Height Estimation with UAVs. Proceedings of IEEE/RSJ International Conference on Intelligent Robotics and Systems (IROS), Chicago, Illinois, 2014.

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