Farmers go high tech with remote sensing by SLANTRANGE
It’s difficult to pick future winners when it comes to startups, but SLANTRANGE, a San Diego-based data analytics company and developer of low-cost airborne remote sensing tools, might be the exception. I say this for a few reasons:
- The company was just awarded first place in the Innovative World Technologies category at the March 2015 7th Annual SXSW Accelerator® competition held in Austin, Texas.
- Founders Mike Ritter and Mike Milton each have over ten years of experience developing airborne imaging and analytics systems for military drone intelligence applications.
- The near million dollar seed funding raised by SLANTRANGE did not come from traditional sources like angels or venture capitalists; most of it came from customers. It’s hard to get a better endorsement than that!
SLANTRANGE’s patent pending sensor technology and analytical software is designed for use on third-party drone aircraft. It measures multiple crop health indicators, invisible to the naked eye, and provides results within minutes of the drone’s flight. Using this technology, farmers are able to respond more quickly and accurately to emerging crop conditions, improve yields and produce crop growth records for Big Data farm optimization models.
Designed for use on third-party drone aircraft, SLANTRANGE’s SL4000c Multispectral Crop Sensor, at left, weighs just 8.81 ounces. The Ambient Light Calibration Sensor, at right, is just 1.8 ounces.
Here’s how it works: The crop consultant or farmer first develops a crop-scouting plan, which defines which fields are to be surveyed and if there are any specific or obvious issues that need to be monitored. Then he or she creates a flight plan using open source mission planning software. A polygon is drawn around a Google Earth image of the field to be surveyed, and the system, pre-programmed with camera parameters, prescribed image overlap and other values, automatically builds a waypoint map. The field then can be autonomously flown using a drone carrying SLANTRANGE’s remote sensing equipment. The same flight plan can be reused each time the farmer wishes to survey that particular field.
After the flight, data gathered from SLANTRANGE’s sensors is assembled into a photo mosaic and the noisy background of soils, shadows and other extraneous data is filtered out. The process outputs maps and crop statistics, such as plant population density, plant size, stress, weed coverage and growth stage, and creates shapefiles that can be used in many GIS applications, like Esri’s ArcGIS. In other words, this procedure produces actionable information within minutes.
A photo mosaic is assembled and extraneous data is removed, yielding actionable data in the form of maps and shapefiles.
Because a plant's health and maturity can be measured by the amount of sunlight it absorbs, transmits or reflects, SLANTRANGE's sensors are designed to specifically detect changes that indicate photosynthesis, transpiration and senescence. Moreover, the analytical tools and sensor technology can be tuned for specific crop analysis. SLANTRANGE is currently working with farmers in Nebraska to increase corn and soybean yields.
These images illustrate sample sensor output rendered and processed by SLANTRANGE’s analytic engine. Above, the corn population is counted shortly after emergence in the presence of weeds. The SLANTRANGE sensor and analytics package discriminates weeds from the planted crop for accurate stand counts.
The top image of an orchard was taken with a standard color camera. Orchard vacancies are apparent, but little additional information is available. In the SLANTRANGE image at bottom, the vacancy is surrounded by plants showing high stress conditions (blue) compared to the rest of the orchard (red).
The cost of SLANTRANGE’s sensors and software varies depending on whether the user will be flying a fixed wing craft or a copter, but in most cases, it’s under $10,000. SLANTRANGE also charges a small service fee of about one dollar per acre flown. The company has been shipping product since February and currently has a lead time of approximately three weeks.
SLANTRANGE certainly seems to have a leg up on the competition, but there are no long-term guarantees; other startups, like DroneDeploy, and established players, like John Deere, are also in the market. SLANTRANGE’s success will depend on their ability to get additional funding, broaden their distribution network, and continue to enhance and develop new products.
You can find additional information about SLANTRANGE by going to their website (http://slantrange.com) and/or by visiting booth 3150 at the AUVSI (http://www.auvsi.org/home) trade show in Atlanta next week. You can also meet Bill McNeil, our resident Directions Magazine sUAV Contributing Editor at this event. If you'd like to meet him, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photos shared with permission from SLANTRANGE.