The new platform uses ‘Sky Walker,’ an unmanned aerial vehicle which can fly at over 600-meter with an average speed of 45 km/h. The vehicle has thermal and spectral cameras mounted under each wing, and its flight path and image capturing are controlled via a laptop using Google Earth images. Jill Cairns and Mainassara Zaman-Allah tested the platform at CIMMYT-Harare along with José Luis Araus (University of Barcelona), Antón Fernández (AirElectronics president), and Alberto Hornero (Sustainable Agricultural Institute of the High Research Council) to establish the optimal flight path (distance between plane passes and height) for plot level measurements. Field experiments were phenotyped for spectral reflectance and canopy temperature within minutes; these will be compared to results from the GreenSeeker.
The measurement speed of the new platform helps to overcome problems associated with changes in cloud cover and the sun position. It will be used by the Crop Breeding Institute to assist in developing new maize hybrids with heat stress and drought stress tolerance under elevated temperatures.