Education program teaches students to fly drones, diagnose plant disease


A program in Manitoba is teaching students about flying drones and using plant imagery to fight plant disease.

Matthew Johnson, vice president, education and digital ag at Volatus Aerospace, designed the course to be interactive, engaging, and forward-focused, with a multi-year option.

“I wanted to come up with a newer program that was exciting and got kids engaged in some really cool aspects of what we’re doing in the drone industry using high end equipment, multispectral sensors, and some neat data processing tools and engaging them and all of that stuff,” Johnson says.

Called the science experiential aerial research (SEAR) program, the idea there is to engage high school students from grades nine to 12, in data collection activities using drones, and then data processing, and analysis using machine learning.

The STEM-focused program received funding from the Mantioba government to do work on Dutch elm disease, but students can also create a crop disease project.

“The crop disease project is essentially using multispectral sensors to capture crop health information, collecting near infrared and red edge light spectrum data. And then we teach the students how photosynthesis works and how the different different wavelengths of light are absorbed or reflected by plants, like the chlorophyll in the plant leaves,” he says. “Then when we get out to the site, they do soil sampling, they do leaf and other tests using soil moisture probes and stuff like that, where they basically do some agronomic work, they learn about different things. And in addition to learning how to fly the drone, and collect some aerial data that we will use for the next year of the program.”

The program itself can be picked up by any high school. (more below the player)

Looking ahead, Johnson isn’t just excited about the program; he also sees more practical applications at the field level for drone use. With the decreasing costs of the tech and the ease of use, he sees precision imagery and crop scouting a quick adoption for most farms. Something like drone spraying, however, isn’t likely a short-term option for most broadacre applications.

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