Monitoring plant health through the use of drones, planes, satellites and robots

It is now possible to monitor the health of plants and intervene to treat their pathologies in real time, thanks to aerospace technologies that allow the use of drones, satellites, planes and robots. This is the outcome of the Tebaka project, the final results of which were presented in recent days at the Brindisi headquarters of the Aerospace Technology District (Dta), in the Citadel of Research. The TEBAKA (TErritoryBAsic Knowledge Acquisition) project is co-funded under the MUR Notice no. 1735 of 13/07/2017 ‘Industrial research and experimental development projects in the 12 areas of specialisation identified by the PNR 2015-2020’, which dealt with ‘Precision Agriculture’.

Technological development, in the field of sensors, data acquisition (sensors and platforms for their transport) and their subsequent manipulation (data science systems based on artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques), to transform them into knowledge suitable for managing complex phenomena such as the life cycle of agricultural crops, allows the design of technological and procedural architectures for the increasingly concrete development of solutions for ‘PRECISION AGRICULTURE’ in its most proper definition: having the right system (tools, processes, rules) to do the right thing, in the right place, at the right time, with the right tools. The health status of crops (vigour) and the presence of critical conditions (e.g. diseases) can be detected with remote observations (remote sensing) carried out using sensors transported from various platforms (satellites, planes, drones, robots).At the same time, environmental information (related to climate and soil) can be acquired with the same observation criteria, thus completing the knowledge picture in the various phases of the product life cycle.

All this makes it possible to have, as close as possible to the real time, the general and precise state of conditions and phenomena that can be used, with adequate reliability, to make forecasts of future developments and thus activate appropriate and anticipated corrective measures. The ultimate goal is to achieve optimal results in agriculture in terms of product quality, economic value and environmental impact.

These were the basic elements examined and analysed in depth, through theoretical developments and real experiments, during the TEBAKA project, with the aim of developing and experimenting, on three typical Apulian crops such as wheat, vine and olive, a modular, integrated, open solution (able to grow continuously in its performance) to create knowledge bases on the life cycles of crops (in relation to the various territorial areas) and to be usable for the end user (farmer, Associations, Public Administration) for appropriate use.
The results achieved and presented during the meeting validated the starting hypotheses and made it possible to propose a system capable of being useful and applicable in the management of other crops as well as being the basis for further applications and solutions in other domains for land management and control.

Manuela Matarrese, the DTA project manager who coordinated the project’s implementation, said: ‘The meeting, during which the Scientific Expert appointed by the MUR, Dr. Alfredo Biocca, also spoke, allowed us to take stock of the main results achieved, ranging from the large amount of data acquired and processed to the applications, technologies and models developed, but also on the impact that the project has had in terms of new knowledge acquired. The partnership also experienced and demonstrated great ability to operate as a system in which multidisciplinary expertise was integrated. This consolidates the conviction that Tebaka will be able to generate further important results for the development of new and increasingly high-performance applications in the precision agriculture sector’.

The project was carried out by DTA, as project leader, together with ASI (Italian Space Agency), the institutes of CNR (National Research Council), IRSA and STIIMA of Bari and IMMdi Lecce, ENEA (National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development), Magnaghi Aeronautica s.r.l., Mermec Engineering s.r.l, Planetek s.r.l., Bari Polytechnic, the University of Bari’s Departments of Physics and Soil, Plant and Food Sciences (Di.S.P.A) and University of Salento.