To provide affordable crop diagnostics in real-time, agri-tech start-up FOTENIX has miniaturised lab quality technology so it can be used in the field. Spectral image data is captured with a standard camera and LED flash and transmitted for analysis in the cloud, with results delivered to producers’ smartphones. The compact device is the size of a shoebox and can be integrated into farm equipment. It was unveiled at Agri-Tech East’s seminal REAP Conference on Wednesday 6 November 2019.
Crop diagnostics specialist Charles Veys has teamed up with Professor Bruce Grieve, Director of the e-Agri Sensors Centre, to make sophisticated imaging technology accessible for small-scale farmers.
Charles explains: “Our initial aim was to put the disease diagnostics technology, used in the research laboratories of agrichemical giants, into the hands of developing world farmers. However, we found that appropriate equipment wasn’t available to farmers anywhere and it could have significant impact on crop yields.
“This focus on affordable technology meant that we came at developing the device from a different perspective. So, rather than sensitive equipment and filtered electronics, we used cameras similar to those in our phones. Our unique spectral imaging technique uses household LEDs, but optimised for particular colours outside our visual range. All the while, we maintain the capabilities of lab equipment that would cost about £100k.”
FOTENIX’s spectral imaging offers the ability to detect crop diseases, including those with no visual symptoms such as Light Leaf Spot, and provides improved prediction of yields – even under difficult conditions such as counting white fruit flowers amidst white table top guttering.
Charles continues: “Essentially, we’re detecting disease so producers know exactly where and when to spray. When the device is being used, it translates the raw information and creates an image so producers can choose to bring forward their application schedule and reduce crop losses.
“We intend that FOTENIX’s imaging-advice-action can be offered as a fully automated process so we’re currently working with Saga Robotics and their systems to achieve this.
“It is encouraging that larger machinery providers are starting to appreciate how open, interoperable systems are of benefit to everyone. Our goal is that FOTENIX will be integrated within equipment, as it could deliver immediate operational savings – and help continue the work of environmental stewardship, which is becoming increasingly important to the future of farming.”
The device is currently being trialled in UK and overseas projects, including at Rothamsted Research, CHAP, Lincoln Institute for Agri-Food Technology and Berry Gardens Growers cooperative. FOTENIX is currently seeking other trial partners, from machinery providers to early-adopter farmers ahead of commercial release in 2020.