Empowering farmers with high technology, low cost

Artificial intelligence (AI)-powered multispectral imaging camera sensors are revolutionizing the modern agricultural landscape. With specialized remote-sensing technology, farmers have even more visual information to monitor crop anomalies and manage their fields more efficiently.

Multispectral imaging – whether aboard an aerial drone or land robot – provides precise, targeted information that the human eye is incapable of seeing by capturing different bands of light.

This technology of image detection, which digitally manipulates several bands of optical frequencies by capturing several visible wave lengths and invisible (infra-red) images of crops and vegetation, uses those images to compare with a known database for the identification of diseases and pests.

While it can be an indispensable farming tool, at upwards of $25,000 for a complete system, it can be out of reach financially for many struggling growers.

Enter Fabio Lopes, a computer engineer at Niagara College’s Agriculture & Environmental Technologies Innovation Centre (AETIC), who is changing the game. Lopes is developing a system with an entire software suite, for less than $2,000, and Research & Innovation will soon be accepting interested partners with whom to collaborate.

“These multispectral images are produced by proprietary multiprocessing equipment with lenses and specific optical mechanisms,” Lopes explains further. “The images can be integrated into a complex external software system and local and remote hardware, generating digital information on different aspects of culture with greater precision, using green, red-edge and near infrared wave bands.”

The benefits for farmers and the surrounding environment are significant: in addition to increasing crop yields, such technology can minimize the use of pesticides, fertilizers, and water waste.

While the hardware Lopes is using to make the product cost effective may seem unelaborate, it’s the entire suite of algorithms that Lopes is designing that are highly sophisticated.

“My motto is although simple is difficult, it is cost effective and allows more people to receive help.”

In addition to capturing images in different spectral layers, the equipment has some algorithms and sensors capable of distinguishing movement and interpreting the vegetation scenario. The data of the images stored internally are combined with other data from sensors that will allow the creation of orthomosaic models in 3D.

Fabio Lopes, a computer engineer at AETIC is developing a multispectral imaging camera sensor, complete with a suite of algorithms. While a complete system can run upwards of $25k, his can be made for less than $2k, allowing farmers to affordably receive more visual information to monitor crop anomalies and manage their fields more efficiently.​

A mature student in NC’s Computer Programming program, Lopes has more than 25 years’ experience in software and hardware development for technology industries. While he has a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical & Computer Engineering from Brazil, he needs certification in this country.

Lopes left Brazil 18 months ago for Canada to provide a better life for his two children and wife, a neurosurgeon. He also left the successful business he cofounded and, as chief technology officer, was responsible for the development of technology prototypes for embedded navigation systems.

The researcher and inventor also holds two patents in projects and implementation of aerial protection systems using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) with cutting-edge technology.

Lopes is working with Mike Duncan, PhD, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’s Industrial Research Chair for Colleges (NSERC-IRCC) in Precision Agriculture & Environmental Technologies at the College.

Duncan is recognized as a world leader in variable-rate technology and has worked with the College in commercializing research in and developing market-ready prototypes for precision agriculture – and environmental remote sensing.

“Down the line we will be looking for somebody who might want to partner up on this low-cost multispectral camera project,” says Duncan. “This could include either collaborating with the development of the hardware or as a technical service in the use of the device in a project.”

He said the imaging camera sensors can be used either on UAVs or aboard AETIC’s advanced, rugged land rover, called RoamIO Jumbo – technology made possible from an NSERC grant through its College and Community Innovation program.

“What we’re developing right now is using the camera to detect disease or detect crop anomalies. We can look at the leaves, at the fruit and any aspect of the plant,” says Duncan, adding that initially trials will be done with vines using the College’s own vineyard at the Daniel J. Patterson campus in Niagara-on-the-Lake.

Niagara College’s AETIC team works with private and public sector partners to develop innovative solutions to address today’s challenges in agriculture, local and sustainable food production, plant growth, horticulture practices, greenhouse operations, aquaponics and environmental management.

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